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A non-offer by China

A non-offer by China

Author: Claude Arpi
Publication: The Pioneer
Date: September 2, 2009
URL: http://www.dailypioneer.com/199746/A-non-offer-by-China.html

India had a full-fledged mission in Lhasa till 1952. That's now a footnote of the history of Tibet's suppression and India's failure to hold its ground. Strangely, India has been told that it can open a consulate in the Tibetan capital. It makes little sense. Or does it?

Jujian Hua, director at Tibet's Foreign Affairs Office, recently made a startling declaration: "India can set up a consulate in Lhasa". He then added, "That depends on India."

Mr Jujian Hua said, "The local Government (of the Tibetan Autonomous Region) attaches great importance to trade, culture and tradition, including tourism."

A day later, the Government of India clarified that it had never approached the Chinese authorities for permission to open a consulate in Lhasa. An Indian official said there was no question of discussing this issue with China: "New Delhi has no plans to open a consulate in the Tibetan capital."

In the not too-distant past, India had more than a consulate in Lhasa; it had a full-fledged mission till the end of 1952. India had inherited several rights and privileges in Tibet from the 1914 Simla Tripartite Conference (between British India, Tibet and China).

Apart from the mission in Lhasa, there were three trade marts managed by Indian agents posted in Gyantse, Gartok (western Tibet) and Yatung (in Chumbi Valley near Sikkim border). These agents were entitled to a military escort. The Post and Telegraph Service, a chain of rest-houses and the principality of Minsar (near Mt Kailash) were also under the Government of India's control. Over the years, all this would be 'offered' to the Chinese, without any compensation or even trying to get a fair settlement of the border issue.

Ideologically, the first Prime Minister of India was not comfortable with what he called 'imperialist sequels'. He realised, however, that these 'privileges' were useful for trade, as was the McMahon Line, delineated in Simla, marking the border between NEFA and Tibet.

After the Chinese invaded Tibet in 1950, the Government of India found it increasingly difficult to retain these facilities on the ground. Visitors, traders and officials from India began to be unnecessarily harassed or put to hardship.

In the summer of 1951, KM Panikkar, India's Ambassador to China, came to New Delhi for consultations; by that time he was already in love with the Communist regime in Beijing. Jawaharlal Nehru too was convinced that the future of India lay with the East: "For the first time, China possesses a strong Central Government whose decrees run even to Sinkiang and Tibet. Our own relations with China are definitively friendly."

However, Nehru had to admit that there were some differences of perceptions. The mission in Lhasa was one of them. On November 3, 1951, when asked about this during a Press conference, Nehru remarked that the Mission would continue to remain there.

A few months later, when questioned again on the same subject, Nehru vaguely answered that the Mission was dealing "with certain trade and cultural matters more or less". He added that technically the mission never had any diplomatic status. This was not true since the British and later the first Indian representatives had the status of a full-fledged mission till the autumn of 1952.

During the same Press conference, Nehru declared that he was not aware of "any infiltration of Chinese troops in India". Rumours had begun about Chinese incursions through the UP-Tibet border (today Uttarakhand) as well as through the Ladakh-Tibet border. The first Chinese surveys for the Sinkiang-Tibet highway cutting through the Aksai Chin occurred at that time (Nehru was informed by LS Jangpangi, the Indian trade agent in Gartok).

In June 1952, Nehru had become prudent: "The status of the representative in Lhasa has never been defined for the last 30 years." The Prime Minister pointed to the changed circumstances: From an independent country, Tibet had become a country under China's effective suzerainty. "China is now exercising its suzerainty".

Nehru explained that as Tibet was no longer an independent country, the decision had been taken to demote the diplomatic relations between Tibet and India: Indian Representative in Lhasa would soon be re-designated as a Consul-General.

During the same month, the smart Zhou Enlai told the gullible Ambassador of India that he "presumed that India had no intention of claiming special rights arising from the unequal treaties of the past and was prepared to negotiate a new and permanent relationship safeguarding legitimate interests".

Not only did the Chinese offer nothing to India in exchange for its generosity, but New Delhi allowed China to open a consulate in Mumbai. Unbelievable!

In a cable to Panikkar, Nehru said, "We would naturally prefer a general and comprehensive settlement which includes frontier." But he did nothing more.

A few months later, Panikkar, who had been transferred to Egypt, wrote: "The main issue of our representation at Lhasa was satisfactorily settled… there was no outstanding issue between us and the Chinese". Again no reference was made to the border issue.

Hugh Edward Richardson, the last Head of the British Mission in Lhasa, saw this development quite differently: "That decision adroitly transformed the temporary mission at Lhasa into a regular consular post. But it was a practical dimension of the fact that Tibet had ceased to be independent and it left unresolved the fate of the special rights acquired when Tibet had been in a position to make its own treaties with foreign powers and enjoyed by the British and Indian Governments for half a century."

In April 1954, the 'born-in-sin' Panchsheel Agreement was signed. Though the status of the Consulate- General and the trade marts was confirmed, all the other privileges were surrendered. Over the years, the situation became more and more untenable for the Indian officials. After the Dalai Lama took refuge in India in 1959, Chinese authorities constantly harassed the staff of the consulate and trade marts. When the Panchsheel Agreement lapsed in April 1962, there was no point in renewing it. The trade marts were closed and China asked the officials to vacate the premises. As the building in Yatung belonged to the Government of India, the Chinese even asked India to "take the building away". This became the subject of a long correspondence between the two Governments.

On December 3, 1962, the Ministry of External Affairs sent a stern note to its Chinese counterpart: "The Government of India have decided to discontinue the Indian Consulates-General at Lhasa and Shanghai from December 15, 1962 and to withdraw their personnel manning these Consulates General. The Government of the People's Republic of China is requested to take reciprocal action on the same date in regard to their Consulates-General in Calcutta and Bombay."

Since then, there has been no Indian representation in Tibet.

As for the probe sent by the Chinese to reopen the consulate in Lhasa in a near future, one could ask: What is the point?

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