China said on Friday it was “strongly dissatisfied” with a meeting between President Pranab Mukherjee and Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama and pointed out that New Delhi was disrespecting one of Beijing’s core interests.
The Indian foreign ministry, however, said the Dalai Lama was a revered spiritual leader and it was a non-political event.
Mukherjee met the Dalai Lama at the inaugural session of the first “Laureates and Leaders for Children” summit held at the Rashtrapati Bhavan in New Delhi over the past weekend. Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi and former Australian prime minister Julia Gilliard also attended the event.
It was the first meeting in decades between a serving Indian president and the Dalai Lama, who has lived in exile in India since 1959.
China has called the Dalai Lama a “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and accused him of fomenting separatism in the Tibet Autonomous Region (TAR) and inciting self-immolations. It invariably reacts angrily whenever the Tibetan leader meets leaders and officials of other countries.
Beijing surprisingly reacted almost a week after the meeting, though the reaction was sharply worded by foreign ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang.
“Recently in disregard of China’s solemn representation and strong opposition, the Indian side insisted on arranging for the 14th Dalai Lama’s visit to the Indian presidential palace (and) participation in the event with the Indian President and (then) meeting President Mukherjee,” Geng told a regular news briefing.
“The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied with and firmly opposed to that. The Dalai Lama is in political exile and has long been engaged in anti-China separatist activities with the attempt of separating Tibet away from China under the cloak of religion. China firmly opposes to any form of contact between officials of the other countries with him.”
Geng indicated the meeting hurt one of China’s “core” interests about TAR remaining part of the country. “We urge the Indian side to see through the anti-China separatist nature of the Dalai Lama clique, fully respect China’s core interest and major concerns,” he said.
China expects India to “take effective means to remove the negative impact caused by the incident so was to avoid any disturbance to the China-India relationship”, Geng added.
In New Delhi, external affairs ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup said: “India has a consistent position. His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a respected and revered spiritual leader. It was a non-political event organised by Nobel laureates dedicated to the welfare of children.”
New Delhi would have expected a strong reaction from Beijing. But that India went ahead with the unprecedented – at least in recent years – meeting could mean that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is opting for seemingly bolder diplomacy with China.
In late October, China objected to a planned visit by the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh in 2017, saying it would damage bilateral ties with India and amount to New Delhi breaching political commitment on the boundary question.
Beijing’s sharp reaction came after it became known that the Dalai Lama could visit Arunachal Pradesh in early 2017 at the invitation of the state’s chief minister Pema Khandu. Chian claims the northeastern state.
After the Dalai Lama visited Mongolia earlier this month, Geng Shuang told the country “to stick to its commitment to Tibet-related issues for maintaining the sound development of bilateral ties... The Dalai Lama is a political refugee who has long been engaged in activities to split China and alienate Tibet from China in the name of religion.”
Geng added: “China resolutely opposes the Dalai Lama visiting any country…We also stand firmly against all forms of contacts between officials from any country and the Dalai Lama.”
(With inputs from HTC, Delhi)