SHARE
The Dalai Lama on his tour of Arunachal Pradesh
The Dalai Lama on his tour of Arunachal Pradesh

Diplomatic tensions visibly escalated over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, as China on Wednesday lodged a protest with India and said that by ignoring Beijing’s concerns over the issue New Delhi has caused “serious damage” to bilateral ties.

As the Tibetan spiritual leader entered Bomdila in Arunachal Pradesh to proceed to Tawang  for a major Buddhist event, China struck a strident note in its  protest against the move. China on Thursday reiterated its opposition to the ongoing visit of the  14th Dalai Lama to Arunachal  Pradesh, saying it will fuel tensions along the disputed border  in the eastern region.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying dismissed a question on China not respecting India’s application to enter the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), stating the issue has to be decided through multilateral consultations.

Beijing was one of the countries that blocked India’s application to the NSG last year.

Hua said China’s objections to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh on Wednesday have been raised with “competent officials in the Indian government”, and ambassador VK Gokhale has been called to lodge a protest.

Beijing refers to Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet, and calls the Dharamshala-based Dalai Lama a separatist leader who wants to carve Tibet out of the Chinese mainland. Asked whether Beijing views India’s permission to the 81-year-old Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh as amounting to questioning the ‘one China’ policy, Hua said: “I want to re-emphasise that on issues regarding major concern and core interests, territorial and sovereignty, China’s position is consistent. By inviting and approving of the Dalai Lama’s visit to disputed areas between China and India, India has harmed our interests and the India-China relationship. It has fuelled tensions,”

The country is opposed to the spiritual leader’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and attempts by New Delhi to “provide him with a platform to conduct anti-China activities”, she added. “We urge relevant country to stop such erroneous actions and stop undermining Chinese interests,” she said.

Both China and its state media have been lashing out at India for allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the northeastern state, especially Tawang, for about nine days. Hua said the Dalai Lama’s visit has damaged Sino-India ties. “We hope the two sides can continue to follow principle of mutual respect for each other’s core interests and major concerns and we should do more things that can strengthen mutual political trust and promote the overall interests of China-India relations,” she said.

Hua was asked about comments in the Chinese media that India was “playing” the “Dalai Lama  and Tibet card” as an angry response to China blocking New  Delhi’s NSG bid among other  problems. She said: “China will  not make any assumption on India’s intentions.”

On India’s NSG bid, Hua said this issue should be resolved by all members of the group. “We should achieve a solution that applies indiscriminately to all non-Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty countries through consultations and discussions,” she said.

The Tawang monastery has been at the centre of controversy
The Tawang monastery has been at the centre of controversy

RELIGIOUS ISSUE

The Dalai Lama is not the “primary problem” in Sino-Indian relations in the long run, a former Chinese diplomat who served in India today said, amid a row between the two countries over the Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

“In the long run, the Dalai Lama is not the primary problem in Sino-Indian relations, and it’s not a problem that cannot be solved,” Mao Siwei, who previously served as China’s Consul General in Kolkata, was quoted by the state-run Global Times.

Last year, Mao in a rare dissent against China’s official policy, had sought a change in China’s repeated efforts to block India’s bid to slap a UN ban on JeM leader Masood Azhar arguing that he is a terrorist and Beijing should “adjust” its stand accordingly.

In a blog on social media WeChat public account about the India-China stalemate over Azhar, he had said that China should take advantage of India’s complaint against Azhar and “get rid of the passive diplomatic situation” between the two countries.

Meanwhile, a top Chinese official in-charge of ethnic affairs, commenting on the row over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as Southern Tibet, said India is “losing its dignity as a big power” by playing with the Dalai Lama. “This is not the first time that the Dalai Lama has visited South Tibet and called the region Indian territory, which means he is committed to separating the nation,” Zhu Weiqun, head of the Ethnic and Religious Affairs Committee of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference told the Global Times.

Zhao Gancheng, director of the Centre for Asia-Pacific Studies of the Shanghai Institutes for International Studies said “since the Indian government expressed its disappointment over the recent strategic dialogue with China, inviting the Dalai Lama could be seen as a way to vent its grievance.”

India and China held a strategic  dialogue in February, exchanging ideas on a number of issues,  including India’s application to  the Nuclear Suppliers Group  as well as UN ban JeM leader  Masood Azhar, which China opposed. China yesterday lodged a  protest with Indian Ambassador  Vijay Gokhale over the 81-year- old Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit to the area.

Modi with Xi Jinping
Modi with Xi Jinping

The Dalai Lama is currently on a nine-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

China claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet and had previously warned that if India allowed the visit of the Dalai Lama, whom it calls an “anti-China separatist”, it would cause “serious damage” to ties.

China is sensitive to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang region in Arunachal which happens to be the birth place of the sixth Dalai Lama, who was born in 1683, and is at the centre of Tibetan Buddhism.

China claims parts of Arunachal Pradesh as southern Tibet and had previously warned that if India allowed the visit of the Dalai Lama, whom it calls an “anti-China separatist”, it would cause “serious damage” to ties. China is sensitive to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang region in Arunachal which happens to be the birth place of the sixth Dalai Lama, who was born in 1683, and is at the centre of Tibetan Buddhism.

MEDIA THREATS

The Chinese Foreign Ministry statement comes as the Chinese state-run media also slammed the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims is disputed and part of south Tibet. India has said that Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of its territory.

The Global Times accused the Indian government of “openly using” the Dalai Lama “as a diplomatic tool to win more leverage”.

It said India was trying to play the Tibet card against China as “New Delhi is dissatisfied with Beijing’s stance over its membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its request to name Masood Azhar, head of Pakistani militant group, to a UN Security Council blacklist”, it said.

On Tuesday, India said that no political motive should be attributed to the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh and asked China not to interfere in its affairs.

Union Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju, who is from Arunachal Pradesh, said: “India has always been non-interfering in the neighbours’ internal affairs in our approach. In the same manner, we expect the same from our neighbours.

But aaying no “artificial controversy” should be created around the visit of Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to the northeastern state of Arunachal Pradesh, India has called on China not to interfere in its internal affairs. The Dalai Lama arrived Tuesday in the border territory that is also partially claimed by China. But his stop at the famous Tawang monastery where he is due to deliver sermons was delayed due to bad weather.

The Buddhist monk’s visit to the sensitive eastern Himalayan region has become a flashpoint between the two Asian neighbors and analysts say it could lead to a diplomatic chill.

Following strident Chinese objections to the visit, India’s junior home minister, Kiren Rijiju, said Tuesday India had never interfered in China’s internal affairs and expected the same from its Asian neighbor.

“We also never questioned the Chinese sovereignty and India has respectfully adhered to “One China” policy. So we expect China should also not interfere in our internal matters,” said Rijiju, who is the Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s point man on Tibetan relations. “Being a democratic and secular country, India cannot stop or restrict the visit or program of any religious leader in our country.”

China last week warned India the Dalai Lama’s visit to what it called a “disputed territory” will damage relations and urged New Delhi against taking any actions that would complicate a boundary dispute between the two countries.

Analysts say although Beijing routinely opposes visits by foreign dignitaries to the sensitive border state, including the Dalai Lama’s previous visit, its objections have been far sharper this time.

But India is determined to brush off those warnings, says Jayadeva Ranade at the Center for China Analysis and Strategy in New Delhi, adding that Beijing has also not been sensitive to Indian concerns in the past year on a range of issues.

He says, “If the Chinese try and apply pressure, that will not work. They have to concede to our core interests and then there can be compromises which can be worked out.”

Amid the raging row over the Dalai Lama’s Arunachal Pradesh visit, state media here warned India on Thursday that China with its superior military could engage in a “geopolitical game” as India’s “turbulent northern state” borders the country, a veiled reference to Kashmir.

“With a GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact that India’s turbulent northern state borders China, if China engages in a geopolitical game with India, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?”, state-run Global Times said in a stinging editorial.

The reference — “India’s turbulent northern state borders China” — was seen as a hint to Kashmir as China shares a significant section of that border ceded to it by Pakistan as part of the 1963 border agreement. Under the agreement sovereignty over hundreds of square kilometers of land in northern Kashmir and Ladakh was ceded to China. The agreement which was not recognised by India is subject to the settlement of the Kashmir issue between India and Pakistan.

The Line of Actual Control (LAC) which stretches to 3,488 km includes significant sections of Kashmir and parts of Ladakh. It also includes Aksai Chin area which China took control over during the 1962 war. China says that the boundary dispute is confined to 2,000 kms, mainly in Arunachal Pradesh in the eastern sector.

During the past few days, the Chinese government and its media have been expressing indignation over the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang, hardly 25 km from the LAC. For a number of years India has grappled with transgressions from China along the LAC by the Chinese troops specially in the Ladakh sector and a few times in the eastern sector.

Another state-run newspaper China Daily, in its editorial, said, “New Delhi not only allowed the  14th Dalai Lama to visit Southern Tibet, a historical Chinese  territory India has illicitly occupied and refers to as ‘Arunachal  Pradesh’, but the spiritual leader of ‘Tibetan independence’ was also escorted on the trip by India’s junior minister of home affairs.”

Xi with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif
Xi with Pakistani prime minister Nawaz Sharif

“To Beijing, that is a double affront,” it said.” Despite the historical dispute, the China-India border area has by and large remained peaceful recently, particularly since Beijing and New Delhi began to get serious about border talks, it said. “If New Delhi chooses to play dirty, however, Beijing should not hesitate to answer blows with blows,” the paper said. The Dalai Lama is currently on a nine-day visit to Arunachal Pradesh.

INDIAN APPROACH

So what’s the Indian gameplan behind all this? According to several analysts, the Narendra Modi government seems to have adopted a different approach. Conscious that the 81-year-old Tibetan holy leader is not growing any younger, New Delhi seems to have decided to make full use of its “asset”, as the Dalai Lama is sometimes vulgarly described, in the ongoing battle of wits with Beijing.

So if China was going to stab India in the eye by refusing it the courtesy of acceding to the Nuclear Suppliers Group, or by being the only country at the UN to hold up sanctions against Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar, then Delhi was certainly not going to sit quietly and turn the other cheek.

In recent months then, Delhi’s fury against Beijing was slowly sharpened until it found the perfect outlet. The Tibetan leader was allowed, nay actively encouraged, to undertake activities which may have seemed to be par for the course for a top Buddhist leader, but were in fact not-so-subtle provocations against Beijing.

His meeting with president Pranab Mukherjee in Rashtrapati Bhavan in January, his participation at the Buddhist conference in Nalanda last month, as well as the ongoing visit to Arunachal Pradesh are all part of the same strategy – that of needling the Chinese.