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The diplomacy of staplers

The diplomacy of staplers
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First Published: Tue, Jan 18 2011. 07 58 PM IST
Updated: Tue, Jan 18 2011. 07 58 PM IST
China’s insistence on issuing stapled visas instead of the normal stamped/sticker ones to Indians living in Jammu and Kashmir (J&K) has attracted official ire. Something similar happened recently when residents of Arunachal Pradesh were issued stapled visas.
It has led to speculation on the subject. Unlike J&K, China has claimed Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory and refers to it as “South Tibet.” On earlier occasions it has refused to issue visas to residents of the northeastern state saying that Chinese citizens do not require a visa to travel in their country. It has also blocked multilateral loans/aid from flowing into that state for vital projects. The issuing of stapled visas has been interpreted as a change in that position.
The possibility is tantalizing as a Chinese spokesperson in Beijing, while “clarifying” the subject, left much unsaid. The spokesperson blandly told PTI that “China’s position is consistent and clear about the China-India border issue including the disputed area of Eastern section and the Indian side is aware of it. The position has remained unchanged.”
There are two possibilities here. First, it truly marks a shift in the Chinese position that has, at least since 1979, claimed Arunachal Pradesh to be a part of its territory. This is in contrast to its original position, roughly from 1960 to 1979, that did not lay claim to the state. The Chinese position, as outlined by premier Zhou Enlai, was that while the McMahon Line (the border between China and India) was drawn by “imperialists”, China was willing to “accommodate” India’s control of the territory. It is being held that stapled visas imply a return to that original stand.
The other argument is that that may not be the case and what China is doing is merely a tactical change in response to India being “hugged” by the US and signs of Asian countries (Japan, South Korea, Vietnam and others) trying to balance against Beijing. After all, visa issuance is an administrative procedure that can be changed overnight, making an interpretation of diplomatic shifts looks silly.
What is undeniable is that this may offer another possibility of a frank exchange of thoughts between the two countries. Before arriving at any hasty conclusions about “friendship” Indian diplomats should carefully ascertain Chinese intentions of friendship or its sense of fear about changing international alignments in its neighbourhood.
Stapled visas: what is China trying to convey? Tell us at views@livemint.com
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First Published: Tue, Jan 18 2011. 07 58 PM IST