On the eve of Chinese Premier Li Keqiang’s visit to India, a former BJP MP from Arunachal Pradesh has said that the Indian government should allow people from the State to visit China on ‘stapled visas’ without compromising its position on sovereignty over the border region.
In a letter to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Kiren Rijiju has argued that allowing the State’s residents to travel to China on stapled visas — something New Delhi has been objecting to — would not only “downgrade the status of Arunachal Pradesh to a less confrontational one” but also help the people of the State participate in important international events in China.
Mr. Rijiju maintained that by issuing stapled visas to Arunachalis instead of its earlier policy of denying them visas altogether, the Chinese government has “softened” its position and has virtually conceded that Arunachal Pradesh is a “dispute.”
Mr. Rijiju has also suggested that all traditional and ancient trade routes along the McMahon Line and other points on the India-China border be re-opened as trading points rather than just using these places as only as meeting points for the militaries of the two countries.
“The political benefits would be that in the long run these de-facto border trading points will be converted into formal, de jure border points which can be permanently acceptable to both sides,” he wrote.
Hoping that the visit of the Chinese Premier — his first abroad since taking office in March — would be a landmark one, Mr. Rijiju said that if India fails to strike any concrete settlement with China, Arunachal will forever remain a disputed area to Beijing.
Since at least early 2011, China has been issuing stapled visas for Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh. Before that, officials say, China altogether refused to issue any visas, arguing that the State was part of China according to its territorial claims.
India’s stand on stapled visas prevented travel
In the past, foreign policy experts had voiced opinions similar to that of Mr. Rijiju, who has asked that India accept China’s stapled visas to Arunachalese. Analysts — even in Beijing — have seen stapled visas as somewhat of a dilution of China’s stand, as it implied that Beijing recognised that the State was indeed disputed.
China’s stapled visa policy has, however, prevented Arunachal residents from travelling to China, even as part of official delegations, with India taking the view that the Chinese side could not issue different kinds of visas to Indian citizens based on which State they were from.
In 2011, two sports officials who were issued stapled visas were stopped at immigration in New Delhi and were unable to attend a weightlifting tournament. Later that year, the issuing of stapled visas to a karate team from the State angered the Arunachal Pradesh government, when the delegation was unable to travel to China.
Last year, a high-profile visit by a 100-member youth delegation, under an initiative to promote youth exchanges championed by the then Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao, was shrouded in some controversy after a student from Arunachal Pradesh had to drop out at the last minute. The student had been issued a stapled visa by the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi.
This year, however, India decided to not include any representative from the State when a 100-member youth delegation travelled to Beijing earlier this month, officials said.
The delegation, which is currently on a nine-day tour of China, met with Premier Li in Beijing earlier this week.