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Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit likely to hurt India-China ties, say experts

If an incursion by the People’s Liberation Army across the Line of Actual Control that marks the disputed China-India border cannot be ruled out, it is also possible that Beijing suspends bilateral mechanisms as a response – at least temporarily.

india Updated: Apr 08, 2017 19:29 IST
Sutirtho Patranobis
Sutirtho Patranobis
Hindustan Times, Beijing
the Dalai Lama,Dalai Lama Arunachal visit,Arunachal Pradesh
Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama hugs retired Assam Rifles guard Naren Chandra Das, the lone known survivor of a group of seven Indian personnel who were the first to receive the Dalai Lama on Indian soil after he fled Tibet, during an event in Guwahati on Sunday. (AFP)

Relations between India and China seem to be headed for a diplomatic chill over the nine-day visit of Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh from Tuesday, Chinese experts have said, with some of them saying Beijing should use all means including “military” to show its displeasure.

“He was just an issue. After this, he will become a bomb. Using this could make India China relationship more important but also more dangerous,” Ye Hailin, south Asia expert at the influential Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told HT.

If an incursion by the People’s Liberation Army across the Line of Actual Control that marks the disputed China-India border cannot be ruled out, it is also possible that Beijing suspends bilateral mechanisms as a response – at least temporarily.

Or China could even try to stir India’s strategic unease by boosting cooperation with India’s neighbours in South Asia especially Pakistan – sign new deals and pump in more financial aid.

Experts say the response is likely to be harsh, though the tone and tenor could be dictated by Beijing’s diplomatic goals ahead; the response will be calibrated to ensure that it doesn’t impact the BRICS summit in China in September, which is expected to be attended by Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

The Chinese foreign ministry has already issued strong statements, saying the visit will “damage” ties with India; more MFA statements and strong state media editorials are likely to be issued too.

China claims Arunachal Pradesh to be part of South Tibet and calls Dharamshala-based Dalai Lama a separatist who wants to carve out an independent Tibet within the Chinese mainland.

The visit of the Tibetan leader to the northeastern state, and especially Tawang – around 400 km from Lhasa, the capital of the Tibet Autonomous Region in China – will add to the growing list of problems between the two neighbours with assertive leaders, heavily equipped armed forces and a history of festering squabbles.

The year 2016 was marked by China’s intransigence on the issues of listing Pakistan-based cleric Masood Azhar in a UN list of proscribed terrorists, India’s entry into the Nuclear Suppliers Group and going ahead with the China-Pakistan Economic Corridor despite New Delhi’s concerns about it as at least a few projects under it are likely to be in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir.

The decision to lay the religious carpet for Dalai Lama in Arunachal Pradesh is being seen here as New Delhi’s way of showing its resentment and telling Beijing that India has a diplomatic card to play as well – an old one that elicits a routinely furious response from Beijing.

How will Beijing respond to register its anger this time?

“Most common people in China feel south Tibet is part of China since ancient times. The Tibet issue is vital to China’s national interests, its sovereignty and territorial integrity. Dalai Lama, who said Tawang is part of India, is a treacherous separatist in action. For preserving our core interests, China should use all the resources at its disposal, including economic, cultural and eventually military means,” Wang Dehua, director of the Institute for Southern and Central Asian Studies at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies told HT.

It is not for the first time that the 81-year-old Tibetan leader is visiting Arunachal or Tawang: in 1959, he escaped from China via Tawang and visited the state in 1983, 1997, 2003 and 2009.

In 2009, Beijing said the visit undermined Chinese territorial integrity and criticised the Dalai Lama’s “scheme to wreck China’s relations” with India.

But this time is different, one expert told HT, because the visit is continuing a trend that the Narendra Modi government began from the first day of his inauguration as prime minister.

“At the inauguration of the PM Modi, this administration invited the so-called head of the Tibetan-government-in-exile, Lobsang Sangay. That time too the Chinese government was irritated. Then President (Pranab) Mukherkee met the Dalai Lama in a formal occasion, which was of course not related to the Tibet issue. But this was also very rare, very unprecedented and also very high-profile,” Hu Shisheng, south Asia expert at the China Institutes of Contemporary International Relations said.

Hu added that on the surface, Dalai Lama has been invited to Arunachal Pradesh to deliver religious sermons.

“But your minister of state for internal affairs (Kiren Rijiju) will accompany him. So, it couldn’t be totally religious. Dalai Lama’s activities cannot only be understood in a religious way. And, we know the visit to the disputed area itself is very politically sensitive issue in China. So, it adds another disturbance to bilateral relations,” Hu told HT.

Indian diplomats here refused to comment on the situation but it wouldn’t be farfetched to say that they were getting ready for a tense week ahead.

First Published: Apr 03, 2017 16:10 IST