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China seeks Tibet-Sikkim trade treaty

Sheela Bhatt in New Delhi | June 22, 2003 04:45 IST

China, which is seeking the reopening of the old trade route through Sikkim, a state whose accession to India in 1975 it still refuses to recognise, now says it is willing to allow the governments of Sikkim and Tibet to enter into a bilateral agreement for the purpose, an informed source in the Government of India told rediff.com on Saturday.

India, however, is not agreeable to this proposal and insists that any such agreement can only be made between New Delhi and Beijing.

Over the last couple of years, China has softened its stand against Sikkim's accession to India, even conceding that the state is a non-issue so far as the border dispute between the two Asian giants is concerned. But at the same time Beijing is unwilling to accept officially that Sikkim is a part of India.

Chinese officials have reportedly been saying that since they have openly condemned India's 'annexation' of Sikkim all this while, public opinion in China would be confused if they were to now issue a statement recognising Sikkim as a part of India.

But this reluctance isn't preventing China from pushing for improved trade with India through the Sikkim corridor and claims that a treaty between Tibet and Sikkim would be tantamount to accepting Sikkim's status as an integral part of India.

As quid pro quo for this 'concession' on Sikkim, China wants India to permit it to reopen its border post in Kalimpong and its consulate in Kolkata. Both these offices were closed down when ties between the two countries worsened in the late 1950s, leading eventually to the border war of 1962.

India suspected the Chinese of using their offices in West Bengal to encourage subversive activities in the Northeast. Even today, Indian intelligence agencies remain opposed to the idea of allowing the Chinese to re-establish the Kalimpong trade post and the Kolkata consulate.

After ties between the two countries were put on a more even keel in the late 1980s, China allowed India to reopen its consulate in Shanghai. In return, India allowed China to open a consulate in Mumbai, but not the consulate in Kolkata.

Addressing a press conference in New Delhi on Saturday evening on the eve of Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to China, Foreign Secretary Kanwar Sibal said, "Sikkim is an old issue. There is nothing new in it. It's always there in the background."

Sibal said he sees no possibility of reopening the old trading route through Sikkim. This is probably as clear a pointer as any that China is not budging from its stated position on the tiny Himalayan state.

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