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Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh sparks diplomatic spat

Beijing upset as Tibetan leader visits contested area in India
Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh sparks diplomatic spat

The Dalai Lama with Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu during a meeting in Bomdila, Arunachal Pradesh on April 5. His visit to the state has soured Indian diplomatic relations with China. (Photo: IANS)

Published: April 07, 2017 07:14 AM GMT
Updated: April 07, 2017 08:00 AM GMT

China and India have got into a diplomatic row over the Dalai Lama's nine-day visit to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, an area that Beijing considers "Southern Tibet" and part of its territory.

"China resolutely opposes" the Dalai Lama "visiting border regions disputed by China and India," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said after the Dalai Lama, who resides in India since 1959 when he fled Tibet, visited Tawang area of the state April 5.

Hua Chunying, deputy director of the Chinese foreign ministry's information department, said in televised statement that the Dalai Lama's visit "will for sure trigger China's dissatisfaction. This will not bring any benefit to India [from] Beijing. The Chinese side will take necessary means to defend its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests."

However, India maintained that the visit was apolitical. Federal junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju in a statement said that as a secular nation, India could not restrict the movement of religious leaders.

India's ministry of external affairs spokesman Gopal Baglay said that the Dalai Lama is a revered religious leader and "deeply respected" across India. "No political color should be ascribed to his religious and spiritual activities and visits to various states of India," Baglay said.

During his time in the state, the Dalia Lama is visiting Tawang Monastery, the world's second largest Tibetan Buddhist monastery. The monastery, which houses some 450 monks, is emerging from a leadership crisis. Its abbot Guru Tulku Rinpoche resigned in May 2016 after two people, including a monk, were killed during an anti-dam demonstration in a nearby town. The Dalai Lama is scheduled to spend three days there.


The 'Dalai Lama card'

Chinese media said New Delhi's stand would force China to interfere in the Kashmir dispute between India and archrival Pakistan. An editorial in the state-run Global Times wondered if India could withstand a "geopolitical" onslaught from an economically, militarily and diplomatically stronger China. 

Foreign affairs expert R. Raja Mani saw "deliberate" diplomatic moves by India in playing the "Dalai Lama card" against Beijing following certain recent political developments.

"Despite personal intervention, Chinese President Xi Jinping snubbed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's request in July 2016 to allow India to accede to the elite Nuclear Suppliers Group," Mani said.

"Again, (in 2016) Beijing stone walled the U.N. censure against Pakistan and Pakistani terrorist Jaish-e-Mohammed leader Masood Azhar by disapproving sanctions. Now, Delhi has played its card," he added.

China and India have a tempestuous relationship, particularly over territorial claims along their shared border. The India-China border dispute covers the 3,488 kilometer Line of Actual Control.

While China claims Arunachal Pradesh as "Southern Tibet," India maintains that the dispute only applies to the Aksai Chin area which was occupied by China during the Sino-India1962 war. The Asian giants have tried to manage the dispute without success.

The Dalai Lama, regarded by Tibetans as the reincarnation of a long line of Tibetan Buddhist leaders, has been running a government-in-exile from northern India. He and his followers fled Tibet in 1959, after Chinese troops overthrew the Buddhist theocracy there. China has repeatedly scolded India for sheltering the Dalai Lama. 

Tibet has been under Chinese occupation since 1949, but many Tibetans continue to press Beijing for independence. 

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