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6 Apr 2017

Thrust and parry on Dalai tour - China shakes fist at India, India does so at Africa

The Dalai Lama in Arunachal.(PTI)
TT, New Delhi, April 5: China today accused India of "using" the Dalai Lama to undermine Beijing's interests, dumping traditional diplomatic semantics for threats issued with rare directness after New Delhi facilitated the Tibetan leader's ongoing visit to disputed parts of Arunachal Pradesh.
"We demand the Indian side immediately stop its actions using the Dalai Lama to undermine China's interests and not hype up sensitive issues between the two countries," Hua Chunying, Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson, said in Beijing.
"China," Hua said, "will firmly take necessary measures to defend its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights and interests".
China's response today - after months of warnings to India - was stronger than any Indian diplomats could recall in decades.
The Indian government stood by its stand that China was creating an "artificial controversy". The ante was upped when Arunachal chief minister and recent BJP entrant Pema Khandu, who accompanied the Dalai Lama from Assam to a rapturous welcome, was quoted as saying India shares its boundary with Tibet, not China - a geographically accurate but diplomatically loaded statement.
"His (the Dalai Lama's) visit to this part of the country is totally religious," the Reuters news agency quoted chief minister Khandu as telling Reuters Television. "As far as the boundary issue is concerned, I have also maintained that we don't share our boundary with China, but we share our boundary with Tibet."
Later, PTI quoted Khandu as saying: "China has no business telling us what to do and what not to do. It is not our next-door neighbour. India shares boundary with Tibet, not with China. In reality, the McMahon Line demarcates the boundary between India and Tibet."
Asked, the Indian foreign office said it was examining Khandu's statement. India has traditionally accepted Tibet as an integral part of China.
During the day, the Chinese foreign ministry summoned Indian ambassador Vijay Gokhale to formally issue a demarche - a written protest - against the monk's visit to the northeastern state, during which he is also scheduled to travel to Tawang, which is claimed by Beijing.
Chinese ambassador in India Luo Zhaohui is expected to lodge a protest with the foreign ministry here.
Till yesterday, the protests from China were not unexpected, and Indian officials said New Delhi wanted to emphasise that it too could appear indifferent to its larger neighbour's sensitivities, after a spate of moves by Beijing that angered India. China calls the Dalai Lama a separatist, and views Tawang as a part of "South Tibet".
But the bluntness of China's response today sparked contingency planning within the strategic establishment, officials told this newspaper, as India prepares to see if Beijing offers an olive branch - or further escalates tensions.
China has followed past pinpricks by India on Arunachal or the Dalai Lama by limited incursions along the disputed Line of Actual Control between the two countries, which have triggered tensions that have then been managed.
But the Dalai Lama's visit this time comes after a steady stream of spats between the nations, with each side using every irritant available at its disposal.
"India, in disregard to China's concerns, obstinately arranged the Dalai Lama's visit to the disputed part of the eastern part of the China-India border, causing serious damage to China's interests and China-India relations," Hua said.
The Indian foreign office had yesterday accused China of creating an "artificial controversy" over the Dalai Lama's visit, citing his six previous trips to Arunachal and Tawang - starting 1983. It insisted that it viewed the Dalai Lama as a "revered religious leader who is deeply respected as such by the Indian people".
"No additional colour should be ascribed to his religious and spiritual activities and visits to various states of India," the foreign ministry statement had said on Tuesday. Today, the Indian foreign ministry said it stood by that statement.
But China accused India of causing "artificial damage" to the "foundation of the talks between the two countries on the border issues".
The Chinese foreign ministry also challenged the Indian government's argument that the Dalai Lama's visit was purely religious, and accused New Delhi of deploying "empty words" to justify its facilitation of the Tibetan leader's trip.
"Do you seriously believe the Dalai (Lama) is only a religious leader?" Hua asked rhetorically, speaking about the Indian statement. "The answer is known to all. He is not just a religious figure. Therefore, his visit to this place will not be of a purely religious purpose. So using these empty words to define this arrangement is not reasonable."
China appears to have drawn a distinction between the Dalai Lama's earlier visits and the current one because of the overt hospitality extended by the Indian political leadership to the Tibetan leader.
Junior home minister Kiren Rijiju is expected to meet the Dalai Lama in Arunachal. Rijiju hails from the state. Besides chief minister Khandu, Sudhanshu Mittal, a Delhi-based BJP leader, is also accompanying the Dalai Lama.
Today, the Dalai Lama said in Bomdila in response to a question: "Firstly, we are not seeking independence. We are very much willing to remain within China. What is important is mutual interest. For material development, remain within China. The Chinese government should also feel okay. At the same time, Chinese government must give us meaningful self-rule, autonomy and must take full care of the environment."
"When I got freedom, when I first entered India, I entered through the state of Arunachal Pradesh. I have an emotional connect with the state and it is special place for me now. I am the longest guest of India government, which has taken full care of me."

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