China angered as Dalai Lama visits Arunachal Pradesh in India

Tibet’s spiritual leader has begun a nine-day visit to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh which is claimed by China. The visit has raised tensions between the two countries that are also at odds over other issues.

Photo by: (AFP)
Photo by: (AFP)

Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama delivers religious teachings to his followers at the Buddha Stadium in Bomdila in India's north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh state on April 5, 2017.

Why is China upset over the visit?

It goes back to 1950 when the Dalai Lama, at the age of 15, assumed powers as the political and spiritual leader of Tibet, an autonomous region of China. He continued negotiations over the future of Tibet with Mao Zedong's communist government until the Chinese troops crushed an attempted uprising in 1959.

Fearing for his life, the Dalai Lama fled to the Tawang district of Arunachal Pradesh, India.  He later settled in the city of Dharamshala and formed a Tibetan government in exile.

In this March 21, 1959 file photo, the Dalai Lama and his escape party is shown on the fourth day of their flight to freedom as they cross the Zsagola pass in Southern Tibet. The 23-year-old Dalai Lama is seen on the white horse wearing spectacles. (AP)

For Tibetans, he is a beacon of hope and resistance. He is also their spiritual head, belonging to Gelug ("Yellow Hat") School Of Buddhism, and is believed to be the 14th reincarnation of the original Dalai Lama, a spiritual leader who was born in 1351.

But Beijing continues to see him as an anti-China separatist and says his visit to Arunachal Pradesh "escalates disputes over the border area." 

The Dalai Lama, in several interviews in the past, has denied seeking independence from China but has called for "greater autonomy and more respect for Tibet's culture, religion and language."

The 14th Dalai Lama is shown wearing royal robes in a golden palanquin at his enthronement as the religious and spiritual ruler of the theocracy in Lhasa, Tibet, February 22, 1940.

What is the Arunachal Pradesh dispute all about?

China and India have overlapping claims over the Tawang district, the mountain area that hosted the Dalai Lama after he fled Tibet. Beijing considers it to be part of south Tibet and therefore a part of China. India bases its claim, citing the 1913 Simla Treaty, signed by British and Tibetan representatives, which sets Arunachal Pradesh as part of India.

The treaty was rejected by China, who said the then-Tibetan government was not independent and had an illegal agreement with the British. After the 1962 India-China war, China captured 45 kilometres in Arunachal Pradesh but fearing international pressure, they retreated.

Nestled in the foothills of the Himalayas, the Tawang Monastery is Asia’s second largest Buddhist monastery, located northeast of Gauwhati, India.

How is this visit being perceived in Beijing?

China has warned India of “deep damage” to bilateral ties over the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Beijing has emphasised that New Delhi would now have to make “a choice” in the way it deals with the issue of the Dalai Lama.

Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told reporters that India's decision to arrange his visit will not benefit New Delhi in any way.

"Arranging his visit to those sensitive and disputed areas not only runs counter to the Indian side's commitment to the issues related to Tibet, but also escalates disputes over the border area," she said. 

Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, arrives at the Tawang monastery in Arunachal Pradesh, in northeast India, Sunday, November 8, 2009.

This will not be the Dalai Lama’s first visit to Tawang.  He visited Arunachal Pradesh in November 2009, 50 years after he had passed through the town from Tibet to India. China did protest then, but this time their reaction has been amplified.

How is India reacting to China's objections?

India is not ready to buckle under pressure.

It sees China's reaction as an interference in its internal affairs. The Minister of State for Home Kiren Rijiju said, "Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of India and China should not object to his visit and interfere in India's internal affairs."​

He also said that the Dalia Lama was a guest in the country and had the right to move around anywhere.
Could this escalate into a diplomatic row?
Possibly, but this is not the first time there have been tensions between India and China.
The two Asian powers have had a hot and cold relationship over he years. While Arunachal Pradesh in the east has been a contested region, the two are also fighting over Aksai Chin in the north of India.

Apart from territorial disputes, China has been actively supporting Pakistan’s nuclear program and blocked India’s membership in the Nuclear Suppliers Group.

Its funding of a new trade corridor in Pakistan and parts of Pakistan-administered Kashmir has raised alarm in India.

China is also investing in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, making India feel strategically cornered.

TRTWorld and agencies