Tibetan Protests Greet Wen

But India looks set to strengthen trade ties with China during the Chinese premier's visit.
2010-12-15
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A Tibetan activist is arrested by Indian police while protesting outside the hotel where Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is staying in New Delhi, Dec. 15, 2010.
A Tibetan activist is arrested by Indian police while protesting outside the hotel where Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao is staying in New Delhi, Dec. 15, 2010.
AFP

Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was greeted on the first day of his three-day visit to India with protests by hundreds of Tibetan exiles against human rights abuses under Chinese rule in their homeland.

"Our main protest is focused in New Delhi, where we planned to stage demonstrations and submit memoranda to various embassies to highlight the plight of people of Tibet and the issue of human rights violations," Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) president Tsewang Rigzin was quoted as saying.

The northern Indian hill-town of Dharamsala was quiet on the first day of Wen's visit, with protest activities focused on New Delhi, the Indo-Asian News Service said.

Activists from the pro-independence TYC, along with protesters from Students for Free Tibet, the National Democratic Party of India, and the Tibetan Women's Association converged on the Indian capital to mark Wen's arrival on Wednesday.

Hundreds of Tibetans staged a noisy protest and sit-in near Delhi's Jantar Mantar observatory, where they plan to remain throughout Wen's trip.

The TYC said the protest aimed to highlight the "extremely critical" situation of political prisoners in Tibet.

"History shows that occupation and oppression never lasts forever, and until that day comes and to hasten the arrival of that day, we will keep our fight alive," the group said in a statement.

Strained ties

India is home to more than 94,000 Tibetans, mostly clustered around Dharamsala, the seat of the Tibetan government-in-exile headed by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 along with many of his supporters following a failed uprising against Chinese rule, is currently officiating at religious events in Sikkim.

Wen's visit comes amid strained ties between the two Asian giants, and began with pledges from the Chinese leader and his Indian counterpart Manmohan Singh that the world is "large enough" for both of them.

Historically, ties between Delhi and Beijing have been dogged by mutual suspicion and mistrust, especially over the disputed border region of Kashmir.

Zhang Yan, the Chinese ambassador to India, recently described bilateral relations as "very fragile, easy to damage, and difficult to repair."

But the Chinese seem willing to bring money as well as rhetoric to the relationship.

Trade is booming

Wen is accompanied by 400 Chinese business leaders, outnumbering the recent delegations headed by U.S. President Barack Obama and French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

The Sino-Indian economic relationship is booming, and bilateral trade looks set to reach U.S. $60 billion this fiscal year, compared with U.S. $42 billion dollars in the previous year.

The Hindustan Times said in an editorial that this trend should be encouraged.

"Let trade do the talking," the paper said. "Other issues that add to the trust deficit will hopefully get addressed on the way."

If that is the case, India is likely to want to talk about a yawning trade deficit estimated at U.S. $18-25 billion in China's favor.

Delhi will be looking to secure greater access to Chinese pharmaceutical and information technology (IT) markets during Wen's trip.

On the first day of his visit, Wen told business leaders that Beijing takes the deficit seriously and is ready to take further steps to "facilitate the access of Indian products” to the Chinese market.

The Chinese delegation will sign deals with Indian companies, including ICICI Bank and Reliance Power, worth more than U.S. $16 billion.

The issue of a disputed Himalayan border, which sparked a brief war in 1962 and has yet to be  resolved in spite of 14 rounds of negotiations, is also likely to surface during Thursday's talks between Wen and Singh.

Last year, Beijing complained bitterly over visits to the northeast state of Arunachal Pradesh—which China claims in full—by Prime Minister Singh and the Dalai Lama.

The Dalai Lama has accused China of perpetrating "cultural genocide" in Tibet, and is regarded by Beijing as a dangerous separatist.

Written by Luisetta Mudie.

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