Nilofar Suhrawardy • Special to Arab News
Publication Date: 
Wed, 2003-06-25 03:00

BEIJING/NEW DELHI, 25 June 2003 — India officially recognized Tibet as a part of China while Beijing agreed to begin trade with India’s northeastern state of Sikkim, officials said yesterday, in signs the two neighbors are trying to resolve long-standing disputes and chart a new relationship.

Ties between the Asian giants have for decades been plagued by tensions over issues such as Tibet, China’s close links with Pakistan and territorial disputes, but Beijing and New Delhi now looked to turn the page on past enmity.

In a joint declaration signed by Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee, who is visiting China, and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao Monday, India for the first time explicitly recognized Tibet as a part of China, according to a copy of the declaration released by the official Chinese news agency Xinhua late yesterday.

As India is home to some 100,000 Tibetans who have fled China and provides the base for the Tibetan government-in-exile, the move to recognize Tibet as part of China could remove a significant source of tension between New Delhi and Beijing.

China’s Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan called India’s recognition of Tibet as Chinese territory “an important and positive expression.”

India and China also said they had appointed envoys to map out a resolution of a long-running border dispute. The one-time rivals have agreed “to explore from the political perspective of the overall bilateral relationship the framework of a boundary settlement”, the joint declaration said.

Vajpayee said the relationship between the two countries, hampered for decades by mutual suspicion and border disputes, had been transformed.

“Our present course of developing all-round bilateral cooperation while simultaneously addressing our differences has transformed the quality of our relationship,” Vajpayee said after talks with ex-President Jiang Zemin, who commands China’s vast military.

“We have achieved what we set out for,” Indian Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said. “We have created a platform for further action.”

India’s National Security Adviser Brajesh Mishra and China’s top-ranking Vice Foreign Minister Dai Bingguo would represent their countries in border talks, he said.

“The appointment of special envoys is a special step that reflects the desire of both countries to settle the border issue as early as possible.”

The countries also agreed to border trade at two points along their rugged Himalayan border, one in Tibet and one in Sikkim, the tiny Himalayan state which New Delhi annexed in 1975 and which Beijing has never accepted as a part of India.

Nuclear-armed China and India fought a brief border war in 1962 and, despite a thaw in relations and years of talks, have failed to pin down exactly where their 3,500 km border lies.

Vajpayee, making the first trip to China by an Indian prime minister in a decade, declared the era of mutual suspicion dead on Monday. Yesterday, he also met President Hu Jintao, who took over from Jiang in March, and Vice President Zeng Qinghong. But it was clear that remaining disputes were tricky ones.

The official China Daily said ties had entered a new phase after India explicitly recognized Tibet as part of China in the declaration.

However, Sinha said there was no question of a change in the Indian position.

“What we have said on Tibet is consistent with what we have said in the past and I don’t think the question of the Dalai Lama leaving India or asking to leave India arises at this time,” he said.

China has long resented India’s decision to give shelter to the Dalai Lama, Tibet’s leader, following a 1959 revolt against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama and a self-proclaimed government-in-exile are based in the north Indian town of Dharamsala.

The two countries said they had designated Changgu in Sikkim and Renqinggan in Tibet as border trading posts.

Indian officials have hinted that could allow New Delhi to suggest Chinese acquiescence to Indian control of the tiny state bordering Tibet, which New Delhi took over after its legislature voted to abolish the monarchy. But China’s Foreign Ministry said it had yet to resolve a dispute with India over Sikkim.

“The question of Sikkim is an enduring question which cannot be solved overnight. We hope this question can be solved gradually,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Kong Quan told a news conference.

He said Beijing’s development of closer ties with India will not “undermine” relations with Pakistan. “China’s position on South Asia has been very clear,” he said.

“We hope all countries in South Asia can live together peacefully. We hope countries in South Asia can solve their disputes diplomatically. The development of relations between China and India will not undermine relations between China and any other country,” said Kong. He was answering a question about whether a landmark declaration ushering closer political and economic ties between China and India will affect Beijing’s relations with Islamabad.

—Additional input from Agencies

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