India’s decision to once again avoid reaffirming its commitment to a ‘One China policy’ has raised eyebrows in Beijing but Indian officials are playing down the omission of “Tibet” from the joint statement issued after talks between Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Li Keqiang.
Diplomats in Beijing say China seeks from every country, without exception, a reference to a ‘One China policy’ in a joint statement, seen as a fundamental Chinese core concern. China’s need to seek assurances from foreign governments on this is rooted in its decades-old sensitivities over Taiwan, though the term also refers to Tibet, Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Macau, besides Taiwan, as being parts of China.
Considering that China views the issue as a core concern — and, in the past, even as a fundamental prerequisite for the establishment of diplomatic relations — Chinese analysts and diplomats were of the view that the omission would not be seen in Beijing as a routine matter.
The first time India dropped the reference to ‘One China policy’ was during Premier Wen Jiabao’s visit in 2010. India made the point then that Kashmir was as much a core concern of India’s as Tibet was to China, and that China’s policies of issuing stapled visas and carrying out projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir violated this core concern.
This is the point that Indian officials sought to make again. “If they had insisted on Tibet, then [we] would have asked for something else [Kashmir] to be included,” an official said, pointing out that there were enough indirect references in the joint statement to make good the exclusion of the T-word.
The first is the joint statement’s affirmation of commitment to “abide by the principles and consensus arrived at by leaders of the two countries concerning the development of India-China relations.” The second is the resolve expressed by both sides not “to allow their territories to be used for activities against each other.”
“These commitments serve the purpose. We won’t make a unilateral commitment to Tibet [without getting anything in return],” said an Indian official.
Lan Jianxue, a scholar at the China Institute of International Studies and a former Chinese Embassy official in New Delhi, told The Hindu that support for the ‘One China policy’ appeared in “almost every statement” and was seen in Beijing as a key factor in how China evaluated a particular relationship.
“Basically, China is confident and capable of defending its territorial integrity, but we will examine how close and intimate a relationship is by mentioning the One China policy,” he said. “It appears in almost every statement.”
He, however, cautioned against reading too much into its absence from the joint statement, saying that “not mentioning does not mean India plans to change its concerned policy.”
“Actions speak louder than words,” he said.
“The Chinese side,” Mr. Lan added, “will continue to closely watch India’s actions regarding China’s core concerns,” suggesting that even if the failure to mention the ‘One China policy’ was not a major issue, it was probably indicative of persisting mistrust between the two countries on matters seen as core interests.
This is exactly the point Indian officials in New Delhi sought to make. “Don’t read too much into the absence of Tibet from the joint statement. India’s policy has not changed and it was evident when the Chinese Premier raised the issue of Tibet. The Prime Minister’s assurance was very clear — the Dalai Lama was a spiritual leader and Tibetan exiles living in India will not be allowed to carry out anti-China activity from India,” a senior official said.