NATIONAL

China stays firm on Tibet, Sikkim

BEIJING June 26. China sees its latest understanding with India on the Tibetan issue as a binding formulation with no room for ambiguity about New Delhi's acknowledgment of the finality of Tibet's status. Beijing does not also concede that the new Sino-Indian memorandum on border trade can be interpreted as a pointer to China's implicit or potential recognition of Sikkim as an integral part of India.

Outlining Beijing's firm position through diplomatic euphemisms and deft strokes of the soundbite, the spokesman of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Kong Quan, affirmed here today that India's stand on Tibet "is very helpful'' and that the issue of Sikkim would still require to be "solved in a gradual manner.''

He set out China's thinking on these questions of India's concern in response to questions from The Hindu at a regular briefing for international journalists based here.

Asked whether the specific bilateral agreement about opening a point in Sikkim for trade along the China-India border could be viewed by New Delhi as an implicit or indirect Chinese affirmation of Indian sovereignty over the entire territory of Sikkim, Mr. Kong would not endorse any such reading of the relevant memorandum. It was, he underlined, "a border trade agreement.'' The unmistakable implication of this remark was that the new memorandum was, in contrast, no border agreement that could actually define Sikkim's final status.

Mr. Kong asserted that "the purpose'' of the memorandum was to "expand border trade.'' Noting in this context that the political status of Sikkim was still a matter of historical baggage, he said that India and China "have to respect history and reality.'' Reiterating that the Sikkim question could not be settled overnight, he hinted that China was in no hurry as well. Amplifying the nuance, he merely expressed China's "hope'' that the Sikkim puzzle "can be solved in a gradual manner'' over time.

On Tibet, Mr. Kong was very effusive about "appreciating'' India's conclusive acknowledgment of the Tibetan Autonomous Region as part of the territory of the People's Republic of China — a contemporary reality which Beijing looks upon as a constant, and not a variable, in global politics of the future as well.

The Indian position on Tibet, he said, could help "enhance confidence and defuse suspicions.'' Asked if it was not true that India had now diluted its earlier formulation that the traditional area of Tibet, which is said to extend beyond the present-day Tibetan Autonomous Region, was part of historical China and not just the present-day People's Republic of China, Mr. Kong said he would only point to the definitive statement in the new bilateral Declaration on principles for relations between Beijing and New Delhi.

Answering questions from Western journalists, Mr. Kong said that China and India had now agreed to "enhance consultation and cooperation'' so as to evolve a "fair and acceptable'' solution through "negotiations'' on an "equal footing'' and by maintaining peace and tranquillity along their disputed border.

"Special representatives will be assigned (by both China and India) to discuss the framework of a solution'' to the boundary dispute, he emphasised.

Mr. Kong would not go into the question of difficulties over the exchange of sectoral maps pertaining to the Line of Actual Control (LAC) along the disputed border.

Overall, the latest Sino-Indian agreements, reached during the ongoing visit to China by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, would have "a very important bearing on the comprehensive development of (the bilateral) relations.'' Replying to a question on Myanmar, Mr. Kong noted that the Myanmarese question in specific form did not figure in the Sino-Indian summit at this time. However, the two countries "are determined to maintain peace and stability in the region.''

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