May 28 – India has requested the reopening of its consulate in Lhasa in response to a diplomatic request from the Chinese government to establish a presence in Chennai. India maintained a consul in Lhasa until 1962, at which time it was closed following the border war between the two nations. Lhasa had long been a major trade route for Western Chinese products passing through en route to India and for export via the port at Calcutta, while Lhasa had served as a trade hub for Indian products going the other way. The city was a major point along the ancient Silk Road, but since 1962 has become largely isolated. Still today, Calcutta boasts the largest Tibetan diaspora outside of Tibet.
The Indian request follows U.S. moves to request a consul in Lhasa last year, and to refuse additional Chinese consuls in the United States until a U.S. consulate is established in the city. China has requested the opening of additional consulates in Boston and Atlanta. The U.S. position was taken in July last year following a directive issued by the U.S. House Foreign Affairs Committee.
“The [Secretary of State] shall seek to establish a United States consulate in Lhasa, Tibet, to provide services to United States citizens traveling 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 House Panel said in its Foreign Relations Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2012 while amending the Tibetan Policy Act of 2002.
The Act also authorized 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.”
China is understood to be cool towards the idea of the Indian consulate reopening and, at present, only Nepal has a Lhasa-based consul. India has requested the consulate be established for trade reasons, assisting to reestablish the routes that have been closed for the past 50 years as well as facilitating pilgrimages such as the Kailash Mansarovar Yatra, a circumnavigation of Mount Kailash, and recently the subject of a book by renowned travel author Colin Thubron.
“Clearly China has some important decisions to make concerning Tibet,” says Chris Devonshire-Ellis, principal of Dezan Shira & Associates. “China appears to have progressed as far as it can along its current path in managing the region and changes are necessary. It will be interesting to see how diplomatic solutions can be reached that can provide greater dialogue and understanding in helping Tibet solve its problems.”
India last addressed the issue in 2009, when Jujian Hua, a director at Tibet’s Foreign Affairs Office was quoted as saying: “India can set up a consulate in Lhasa. That depends on India.” However, to date, no actual progress has been made.
Quite how China will react to Indian and U.S. reluctance to permit further Chinese consulates to open in their countries until the Lhasa issue is resolved may not be known until after the forthcoming Chinese leadership reshuffle. In the meantime, China’s foreign diplomatic relations and the development of them appear to be on hold.
An excellent history of India’s consulate in Lhasa can be found here.