In what could be described as semantic diplomacy, India has recognized that “The Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China.” This statement is part of the India-China Joint Declaration signed on June 23 and made public on June 24, 2003.

A one-paragraph reference to Tibet in the “Declaration on Principles for Relations and Comprehensive Cooperation Between the People’s Republic of China and the Republic of India” reads,

“The Indian side recognizes that the Tibet Autonomous Region is part of the territory of the People’s Republic of China and reiterates that it does not allow Tibetans to engage in anti-China political activities in India. The Chinese side expresses its appreciation for the Indian position and reiterates that it is firmly opposed to any attempt and action aimed at splitting China and bringing about ‘independence of Tibet’. ”

Reacting to the joint declaration, Chinese Foreign Ministry Spokesman Kong Quan said on June 24, 2003, “…credit had to be given to Vajpayee (Indian Prime Minister) and his Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao for whatever was contained in the formulation on Tibet.” The formulation on Tibet was “active and positive,” he is quoted by Xinhua as saying. Kong also said that India had admitted that TAR was an “inalienable” part of the territory of China and that other countries had also recognized Tibet as a part of China.

The initial formal Indian position on Tibet could be traced to the India-China (Panchsheel) Agreement on Tibet signed on April 29, 1954. In it Tibet is referred to as “Tibet region of China.” Thereafter, when the then Indian Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi visited China, a Sino-Indian Joint Press Communique was released on December 23, 1988, in which India’s position was changed to “Tibet is an autonomous region of China.”

“The Indian side reiterated the long-standing and consistent policy of the Government of India that Tibet is an autonomous region of China and that anti-China political activities by Tibetan elements are not permitted on Indian soil,” the press communique read.

While political scientists may be able to explain the implication of the difference between these formulations, the statement contained in the joint declaration seems to be an attempt to meet Chinese desire to legitimize its control over Tibet. However, the fact that there was hot discussion on the formulation seems to be clear from leaked reports released by Xinhua in which China talked about India recognizing Tibet as an “inalienable” part of China. The joint declaration does not contain any such reference.

The issue of what the formulation on Tibet would be was part of media speculation in India after the announcement of the joint declaration.