Tibet and Tawang

SECOND EDIT


The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang begins on Sunday. The run-up to this trip has been marked by much drama, suspicion and accusations. It has raised hackles in China. Visits of Indian leaders to Arunachal Pradesh have routinely prompted Chinese objections as these are viewed as Indian assertion of sovereignty over territory that China claims as its own. But the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang has raised Chinese ire to a level not seen in recent years. This is because the visit represents two hot-button issues for China — Tibet and Tawang. It brings together two thorns in China’s flesh: the Dalai Lama, who Beijing accuses of being ‘splittest’ and fomenting unrest in Tibet, and Tawang, which is the main bone of contention in the Sino-Indian territorial dispute. Not surprisingly, China has let loose a verbal fusillade on Delhi and the Dalai Lama in recent weeks. It has accused the Tibetan leader of ‘sabotaging’ Sino-Indian ties. But India has clarified that the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang is religious and not political. The Dalai Lama too has said that he is going to the Tawang monastery to teach.

India, which has buckled to Chinese pressure in the past, has done well to allow the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang. In doing so it has sent out a strong signal that it is no pushover. That message sent, India and the Dalai Lama should ensure that the Tawang visit does not provoke a new downturn in Sino-Indian relations. Mindful of Indian sensitivities, the Dalai Lama and his followers have refrained from political activity on Indian soil for the last 60 years. There is no reason to believe that he will shift from that position during his Tawang visit. Still India and the Tibetan exile community must take utmost care to ensure that vested interests keen to see India and China squabbling do not stir trouble.

Although India has recognised Tibet as an autonomous region of China, Beijing remains suspicious of Delhi and the Dalai Lama. The latter’s visit to Tawang, if handled with care, could allay China’s apprehensions. It could go some way in convincing China that its paranoia vis-a-vis India and the Dalai Lama is rather excessive. The Tawang visit has the potential to usher in a new phase in Sino-Indian relations.

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