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China: A seemingly interesting move on Arunachal Pradesh

January 20, 2011

Uploaded by adminB.Raman, China, Diplomacy, India, Indian,
worldview9:45:00 AM
by B.Raman

Arunachal Pradesh is the easternmost state of India. Arunachal Pradesh
shares a border with the states of Assam to the south and Nagaland to
the southeast. Burma/Myanmar lies towards the east, Bhutan towards the
west, and Tibet to the north. Itanagar is the capital of the state.
Though Arunachal Pradesh is an Indian State, the People's Republic of
China and the Republic of China claim portions of the state as South
Tibet. - File Photo
(January 16, Chennai, Sri Lanka Guardian) China has made a seemingly
interesting move on Arunachal Pradesh, the meaning and message of which
has to be carefully analysed instead of treating it with suspicion as
another anti-Indian move or as connected to the recent change in its
policy relating to Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). An interaction on this subject
between the officials of the two countries would add value to the analysis.

2. Arunachal Pradesh in our North-East is an integral part of India, but
China does not recognize it to be so. It calls it southern Tibet and has
been insisting that historically this area belonged to China and hence
should revert to China. The border dispute between the two countries
arising from the conflicting claims of the two sides has been under
negotiation between designated special representatives of the two Prime
Ministers. There has been no transparency either from Beijing or from
New Delhi as to how the negotiations are going on. The general
impression in the community of non-governmental analysts is that there
has been no forward movement.

3. In the meanwhile, the two sides have been strengthening their
strategic infrastructure in their territories in this area---- China in
its so-called Tibet Autonomous Region and India in Arunachal Pradesh.
China has made better progress in this regard than India. It has
constructed a railway line to Lhasa from Qinghai and has now undertaken
its extension towards the Arunachal border. There is an unconfirmed
report that it is planning to construct a second line from Qinghai to
Lhasa to be dedicated to freight movement. It has strengthened its civil
aviation infrastructure in Tibet. It has built more airports and is
trying to make Tibet the hub of aviation traffic in Western China.

4. Simultaneously, there has been a departure from Beijing’s past
practice of avoiding any major military exercise in Tibet in order not
to create unnecessary alarm in India. The first pan-China exercise
(Stride--2009) conducted by the People’s Liberation Army (PLA) in August
2009 did not include the Chengdu Military Region whose jurisdiction
covers Tibet. For the first time, one saw three military exercises
relating to Tibet in 2010---- two by the PLA (Air Force) in Tibet itself
and one by the Army involving the Chengdu and Lanzhou Military Regions
and co-ordinated by the Beijing Military Region. The Chengdu and Lanzhou
Military regions share the responsibility for the defence of Tibet and
Xinjiang. Any anxiety over causing concern in India is no longer an
inhibiting factor influencing the timing and nature of China’s military
exercises relating to Tibet.

5. In the diplomatic field, China lost no opportunity of asserting its
claim to Arunachal Pradesh. It continued with its policy of not
recognizing the Indian passports of the residents of Arunachal Pradesh
and not issuing them visas---- regular or stapled--- to visit China for
official or non-official purposes. It protested every time an Indian
dignitary or His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal
Pradesh---particularly Tawang. It strongly opposed the Asian Development
Bank funding electric power projects in Arunachal Pradesh.

6. At a time, when it appeared to be becoming increasingly rigid in its
attitude on Arunachal Pradesh, it has shown a seeming ray of flexibility
by issuing stapled visas on Indian passports to two sports officials of
Arunachal Pradesh to enable them to attend a sports-related event in
China. Indian Weightlifting Federation's Joint Secretary Abraham K Techi
and a weightlifter, both residents of Arunachal Pradesh, were stopped
recently by the Immigration at the New Delhi airport because their
Indian passports had Chinese visas on plain papers stapled to their
passports. They were going to Fujian in China at the invitation of the
Chinese Weightlifting Association President Menguang to attend a
weight-lifting contest from January 15 to17. The immigration did not
allow them to board the flight in accordance with the practice of not
allowing Indian citizens to travel to China with stapled and not regular
Chinese visas.

7. The media has quoted a spokesman of the Ministry of External Affairs
(MEA) as stating that India considers Arunachal Pradesh as an integral
part of India and has conveyed to the Chinese side that a uniform
process of issue of visas to Indian citizens be followed regardless of
the applicant's ethnicity or place of domicile.

8. According to the Press Trust of India (PTI), an unidentified official
of the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi, when contacted by it on this
subject, stated as follows on January 13: "There is no change in our
visa policy for residents of Arunachal Pradesh. China does not issue
visas to officials from that state and will still not do it. For
non-officials, we only issue stapled visas,"

9. It is not clear whether the agency has quoted the Chinese official
correctly. It is unusual for a Chinese official to refer to the state as
Arunachal Pradesh. Normally, he would have said so-called Arunachal
Pradesh. His comments indicate that the issue of stapled visas to two
residents of the State was a deliberate act and not the result of any
mistake committed by the visa officer of the Chinese Embassy. The
instructions to issue the stapled visas must have come from the Chinese
Foreign Office in Beijing whose prior clearance is necessary for the
issue of visas to persons traveling to China in response to a local
invitation. Only for tourists no prior clearance is required.

10. In the past, Beijing did not recognize the legality of the Indian
passports of the residents of Arunachal Pradesh. That was why it was
refusing to issue them any visa----regular on the passport or on a
stapled plain piece of paper. By issuing the stapled visas to the two
sports personalities of Arunachal Pradesh holding Indian passports, it
has implicitly recognized the validity of their Indian passports. This
does not mean any change in its claim of sovereignty over the territory.
It only means it is trying to adopt a more flexible line in asserting
its sovereignty.

11. How should India react to it: Reject the stapled visas even in
respect of the residents of Arunachal Pradesh as it has been doing in
respect of the residents of J&K? Or adopt a more flexible line in
respect of the residents of Arunachal Pradesh without linking them to
the residents of J&K? Encourage the Chinese to continue with their
flexibility and expand it? These questions should be carefully
considered by the Government of India before deciding on its response.

12. In an interesting dispatch in the “Times of India” of January 14,
its Beijing correspondent Saibal Dasgupta has said as follows: “China's
decision to issue stapled visas to Arunachal Pradesh residents is a good
omen, observers of India-China border negotiations said. It means China
accepts people of Arunachal to be Indian citizens, which is major policy
change for a country that describes it as its own province of "South
Tibet". "If this news is correct, it is a setback for our stand. Or, a
major concession given to India," Hu Shisheng, deputy director in the
State-run Institute of South and Southeast Asian Studies, told TNN. Some
Indian observers have taken a different view claiming that stapled visas
were continuation of China's policy of putting up obstacles in the way
of a negotiated settlement of the boundary problem. But there are signs
that the Indian government is secretly happy over the new development as
China did not give any visas to residents of Arunachal earlier. "We have
been saying that people of Arunachal Pradesh do not need any visa as it
is part of China. If stapled visa has been given, there must be a mutual
agreement between the two countries," he said. There was a "slim chance"
of stapled visas being issued by mistake by some official because it is
a sensitive issue. "There must have been a change in policy for such a
thing to happen" Hu said. He said the case of Arunachal should not be
linked with Kashmir. Residents of Jammu and Kashmir are being given
stapled visa because of the dispute between India and Pakistan. "China
has said it is ready to change its policies and even redraw the border
around Kashmir once India and Pakistan settle their disputes," Hu said.”

13, Unless there has been a mistake somewhere in the Chinese
visa-issuing hierarchy, this action of the Chinese Embassy is
significant and needs an imaginative response from the Government of India.
( The writer is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat,Govt.
of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical
Studies, Chennai, and Associate of the Chennai Centre For China Studies.
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