A planned visit by the Dalai Lama this week to Arunachal Pradesh, a state in northeastern India claimed by China as “South Tibet,” is stirring controversy and fears of heightened diplomatic tensions between the two powerful neighbors.
The Dalai Lama’s nine-day stay from April 4 will be the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s fifth visit to the disputed region since 1983, and China—which regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist seeking to separate Tibet from Beijing’s rule—has strongly objected each time.
Now, China has threatened that the Indian government-backed trip to the border state’s Tawang region will cause “serious damage” to bilateral ties, though the Dalai Lama has announced plans only to visit and teach at a large Buddhist monastery there.
India has consistently rejected China’s claim to Arunachal Pradesh, former state minister and Indian parliamentarian R.K. Khrimey told RFA’s Tibetan Service.
“Arunachal Pradesh has always been a part of India, and it will remain a part of India,” Khrimey said. “Our prime minister and government have decided that [the Dalai Lama] can travel to any part of India, including Arunachal Pradesh, to which His Holiness wants to travel.”
India’s open support for the Dalai Lama’s present trip reflects government annoyance with China over “a host of issues,” former Hindustan Times editor Pramit Pal Chaudhuri said.
These include China’s expanding economic ties to Indian rival Pakistan, blocking of India’s joining the Nuclear Suppliers Group, and veto of U.N. sanctions against a Pakistani terrorist accused of attacks against India, Chaudhuri told RFA in an e-mail on Monday.
“At this level, this is par for the course in Sino-Indian relations and their carefully managed ways of needling each other,” Chaudhuri said.
Concerns over succession
What is new this time is controversy over the issue of who will succeed the Dalai Lama, now 81, after he dies, Chaudhuri said.
Noting that China has already announced it will select the next Dalai Lama, Chaudhuri said that the present Dalai Lama has been working to undermine the legitimacy of any future “puppet” chosen by Beijing.
The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang will be “partly about ensuring that the [region’s] Tibetan and Buddhist leaders will hold to his line rather than Beijing’s,” Chaudhuri said.
Interviewed by RFA, residents of Arunachal Pradesh meanwhile voiced support for the Tibetan spiritual leader’s coming visit.
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama brings peace and blessings with him whenever he visits this area,” one resident of the state said, adding, “China cannot bear the recognition and respect that the Dalai Lama attracts in the world.”
Others declared their intention never to be governed by Beijing.
“We enjoy the freedom that India gives us,” one said. “Living under Chinese rule would be insane.”
Reported by Kalden Lodoe and Passang Tsering for RFA’s Tibetan Service. Translated by Karma Dorjee. Written in English with additional reporting by Richard Finney.