Dekyi Lingka, the erstwhile Indian Mission in Lhasa. (Photo courtesy/Claude Arpi)
DHARAMSHALA, May 29: Fifty years after India shut its consulate in Lhasa, following the 1962 border war between the two nations, New Delhi has sought to re-open its consulate in Tibet’s ancient capital city.
The Indian demand came on the heels of a Chinese request to open a third consulate in the south Indian city of Chennai. Beijing already has consulates in Mumbai and Kolkata and embassy in Delhi.
Since the occupation of Tibet in 1959 by China’s invading forces, Beijing has allowed only Nepal to have diplomatic representation in Lhasa.
China being India's largest trade partner in goods, Indian officials have been quoted as saying that a consulate in Tibet would help bilateral trade and pilgrimage, such as the Kailash Mansarovar yatra.
However, according to media reports, China’s initial reaction to India’s request hasn’t been “encouraging.” But official sources said New Delhi would like to push for Lhasa.
Writing on his blog
, noted historian and tibetologis Claude Arpi has said that “one of the greatest blunders of Jawaharlal Nehru, the first Indian Prime Minister was to have downgraded the full-fledged Indian mission (equivalent to an embassy) to a Consulate General in 1952.”
Quoting from his book ‘Born in Sin: the Panchsheel Agreement In 1950,’ Claude writes that India used to enjoy several privileges in Tibet.
“Apart from the full-fledged Mission in Lhasa, there were three Indian Trade Marts managed by Agents posted in Gyantse, Gartok and in Yatung. 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 Indian Government’s control.”
India is not the only country seeking a consulate in Lhasa.
In July 2011, the US House Foreign Affairs Committee directed the US Secretary of State to forbid additional Chinese consulates in the United States until China allows a US consulate in Lhasa.
The US House of Representatives in 2009 had passed a bill authorising the establishment of a US Consulate in Tibet and also allowing the creation of a "Tibet Section" in the US embassy in Beijing.
The House panel in its Foreign Relations Authorization Act Fiscal Year 2012 while amending the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002 said that "The Secretary shall seek to establish a United States consulate in Lhasa, Tibet, to provide services to United States citizens travelling in Tibet and to monitor political, economic, and cultural developments in Tibet, including Tibetan areas of Qinghai, Sichuan, Gansu, and Yunnan provinces and, until such consulate is established, shall not permit the establishment in the United States of any additional consulate of the People’s Republic of China".
The Act also authorised the Secretary of State to "establish a Tibet Section within the United States Embassy in Beijing" saying that the "chief of such Tibet Section should be of senior Rank".