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Dalai Lama biggest impediment to ties between India and China: Chinese official

LiveMint logoLiveMint 05-05-2017 Elizabeth Roche

New Delhi: The Dalai Lama is the biggest impediment to ties between India and China, a Chinese official said on Friday, describing the Tibetan spiritual leader as the “sting” in the relationship between the Asian giants.

China and Chinese leaders see Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a friend, which is why India’s move last month to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh—an area Beijing sees as South Tibet and disputes with India—was making Beijing question whether New Delhi was changing its policy vis-a-vis Tibet and China, the official said on condition of anonymity.

Answering a spate of questions on the India-China relationship, the official said Beijing was supportive of Indian aspirations to emerge as a power on the world stage and has been backing Indian policies like the “Act East” policy, i.e. engagement with countries of South-East Asia and Modi’s flagship “Make in India” programme aimed at expanding India’s manufacturing base.

However, China expected India to be sensitive to its concerns like the Dalai Lama, the official said, noting that Beijing viewed the Tibetan spiritual leader as a “very bad guy” though India viewed him as “an important person”.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959, when he fled Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He now lives in Dharamshala in northern India, which is a sore point with Beijing. China on its part says its Communist troops peacefully liberated Tibet in 1950 and regards the 80-year-old, Nobel Peace Prize-winning monk as a separatist.

China stakes claim to almost all of Arunachal Pradesh, stating that it is “a part of southern Tibet” and routinely protests visits by Indian leaders, foreign officials as well as the Dalai Lama to the area.

In the past, Beijing has annoyed India by issuing Indian citizens from Arunachal Pradesh stapled visas or even saying that people of the state do not need a visa to travel to China.

According to the Chinese official, the April visit of the Dalai Lama was the first in nine years and the first after Prime Minister Modi took office in May 2014. China “was not expecting the Modi government to give permission for this visit,” the official said, adding that besides facilitation, Indian officials accompanied the Dalai Lama during his visit -- prompting the question as to whether India was changing its policy towards China and Tibet.

The official acknowledged that ties between the two countries had been rocky in the past two years, but there were also “good stories” to tell -- which included India facilitating the return earlier this year of a Chinese soldier stuck in India since the 1960s, increased trade and exports from India with trade growing overall by 20% in the first quarter of this year and Indian exports growing by 49% during the same period.

A Chinese warship was expected to make a “goodwill” port call in India soon, the official said.

Senior leaders of the two countries were also expected to meet, including the two National Security Advisors, ahead of China hosting the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa (BRICS) summit later this year. Modi is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the BRICS summit, as well as the India-ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) summit in Manila later this year.

However, India not confirming the level of its participation in the “One Belt One Road” or OBOR conference hosted by Beijing this year is a sore point with China which is looking to host leaders from 28 countries, besides participation from a number of other countries and organisations.

India has been opposed to China’s OBOR plans -- Chinese President Xi Jinping’s landmark programme to invest billions of dollars in infrastructure projects including railways, ports and power grids across Asia, Africa and Europe -- because a key strand of it known as the China-Pakistan-Economic Corridor or CPEC runs through disputed Kashmir.

“If you are absent you have no voice,” the Chinese official said, indicating that India’s views and concerns on the subject would not be registered in its absence. “If you don’t attend, Chinese people will ask questions (about) India not adopting a constructive attitude,” he said.

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