'Proceed with caution'
India must proceed with caution in its efforts to engage China, particularly on issues like Tibet and the settlement of a long-standing border dispute, experts and members of the Tibetan government in exile said here Wednesday.
The experts, who were participating in a discussion on India's stance on the Tibetan crisis, noted that Beijing had often retracted on its assurances to New Delhi and warned that its current policies were aimed at strengthening its economic and military position in the region.
The discussion on the theme "Is Tibet sold out?" was organised in the wake of Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's visit to China last month.
During the visit, the first by an Indian prime minister in a decade, New Delhi said it recognised the Tibet Autonomous Region as part of the territory of China.
But the participants remained divided on the theme for the discussion, with some like leading security expert Brahma Chellaney asserting India had betrayed the Tibetan cause. Others said New Delhi had merely accepted the ground realities through its new declaration on Tibet.
Tashi Wangdi, the New Delhi-based representative of the Dalai Lama, welcomed steps taken by India and China to improve their ties, saying such moves by the world's two most populous nations would create an atmosphere conducive to the resolution of the Tibetan crisis.
"We don't detect a change in the Indian government's fundamental position," he said.
But he pointed out that Tibet had never been a part of China till Beijing pressured Lhasa into signing an agreement in 1949. Wangdi also noted that the Tibet Autonomous Region comprised less than half the total territory of Tibet.
"China wants us to say Tibet has historically been a part of China, but that is not acceptable to us. We have been saying that we are willing to settle for genuine autonomy," he said.
Wangdi noted that India and the Tibetan would have to act very carefully in engaging China. "China wants peace to develop economically and militarily (so that it can be) in a position to dictate. These are things to keep in mind. I'm sure the Indian government is aware of these warning signs."
Chellaney, however, was more critical of Beijing, saying Vajpayee had come back empty-handed from China on the question of getting Beijing to recognise Sikkim as a part of India.
China does not recognise Sikkim, which merged with the Indian union in 1975, as part of India. During Vajpayee's visit, the two sides concluded a trade agreement that implicitly recognised Sikkim as an Indian state.
Chellaney noted that China had resorted to similar measures in a 1954 trade agreement on a disputed section of the border in Uttar Pradesh. Beijing, he said, later went back on its word and occupied that section of the border.
On Tibet, he said: "For 50 years, India has been betraying the Tibetan cause. But India has never stooped to the level it has today."
Referring to parts of Tibet that had been merged with various Chinese provinces, he asked: "What is the Indian government's position on Tibet's large outer territories?"