“The Hindu” has reported on October 1,2009, that the Chinese Embassy in New Delhi has been issuing visas on a separate sheet of paper to Indian citizens born and resident in Jammu & Kashmir (J&K). A Chinese Embassy spokesman has been quoted as claiming that this is not a new practice and has been done even in the past.
2.From a perusal of the two reports from its New Delhi-based correspondent carried by the paper, it would seem that one or two Kashmiris, who are citizens of India, with plain paper visas issued by the Chinese Embassy, were not allowed to leave the country by the Indian immigration and they complained to this correspondent.
3. While the Chinese Embassy has tried to make out that this practice is nothing new, it must have been of recent origin. Otherwise, the Indian immigration would have noticed it and drawn the attention of the Ministry of External Affairs. The veracity of the Chinese claim can be easily established by the Indian Embassy in Beijing requesting Kashmiris ftrom India studying in China to produce their Indian passports in order to see whether they had travelled with plain paper visas. If so, there was definitely negligence on the part of the Indian immigration in not noticing this earlier.
4. The Chinese action in issuing such plain-paper visas to Indian citizens born and resident in J&K is a political statement meant to indicate that China does not recognise J&K as an integral part of India and that it agrees with the Pakistani contention that J&K is a disputed territory.
5.Chinese policy on J&K has passed through three stages. In the first stage till 1996, China automatically supported the Pakistani contention that J&K is a disputed territory and that the violence in J&K did not amount to terrorism.Following the visit of the then Chinese President Jiang Zemin to India and Pakistan in 1996, there was a nuanced change in the Chinese policy. They did not recognise J&K as an integral part of India, but started avoiding words, actions or gestures which could be interpreted as their support to the Pakistani stand. During the Kargil conflict of 1999, the Chinese reportedly supported the US position that Pakistan should withdraw its troops from the Indian territory in the Kargil Heights and that the Line of Control should be respected. It was the Chinese reluctance to support Pakistan at the time of the Kargil conflict during the visit to Beijing by Nawaz Sharif, the then Pakistani Prime Minister, which made him dash to Washington after returning to Islamabad and seek a US-backed face-saving before ordering the withdrawal of the Pakistani troops ftrom Indian territory.
6.The Chinese position had stood there since then. Their position till recently can be summed up as follows:Avoiding any action or words or gestures which could be interpreted as their support to either the Pakistani stand that J&K is a disputed territory or the Iindian stand that J&K is an integral part of India. At the same time, they have consistently maintained their past policy of refusing to categorise the violence in J&K as terrorism.
7.Their practice of issuing plain paper visas to Indian citizens born and resident in J&K, whenever it started, indicates their sliding back to their pre-1999 position of support to the Pakistani stand that J&K is a disputed territory and rejection of the Indian stand that J&K is an integral part of India.
8.India should not remain content with merely taking up this issue at the diplomatic level with China. There is a need for concrete action to express our displeasure over the insidious Chinese practice. The Indian diplomatic and consular missions in China should be asked not to issue any more work visas to Chinese selected by their companies to work in their projects in India. The visas of the Chinese already working in India should not be extended when they expire. It should be made clear to the Chinese that the issue of work visas to Chinese nationals will be resumed only when their practice of issue of plain paper visas is discontinued.
( The writer, Mr B.Raman, is Additional Secretary (retd), Cabinet Secretariat, Govt. of India, New Delhi, and, presently, Director, Institute For Topical Studies, Chennai. He is also associated with the Chennai Centre For China Studies. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org )