Dalai visit: India right in its stand

India has done well to stand its ground on the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal is an integral part of India and the Dalai Lama is a guest in this country. As the Indian government has repeatedly said, the Tibetan spiritual leader is free to visit any part of this country that he wishes. In October, India announced that the Dalai Lama would be visiting Tawang and since then, Beijing has been issuing India dire warnings. These have increased in frequency and ferocity in recent weeks. China says that relations with India are “seriously damaged” and that it would take “necessary measures” to teach India a lesson. This was to be expected.

Beijing lays claim to much of Arunachal Pradesh, which it refers to as “South Tibet.” Since the 1980s, it has asserted claims over Tawang rather aggressively. Control over Tawang is important for China to legitimise its occupation of Tibet as it was here that the sixth Dalai Lama was born. Also, it was through Tawang that the current Dalai Lama and his followers entered India in 1959. Consequently, China has responded with extreme sensitivity to any move by India to consolidate control over Tawang, whether through construction of infrastructure or visits by Indian leaders. The Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang represents the coming together of two hot-button issues for China — Tibet and Tawang. It was bound to raise hackles in Beijing.
China responded in a similar manner to the Dalai Lama’s previous visit to Tawang in 2009. As in 2009, hopefully this time too, the war of words between India and China will subside once the visit is over. By not buckling down to Chinese intimidation, India has sent out a strong message to Beijing that it is no pushover and that when it comes to defending its territorial integrity and sovereignty, it will stand its ground. With that message sent, India must avoid inflaming the situation especially at a time when Sino-Indian relations are not in the best of health. Both, Beijing and Delhi need to go back to using diplomatic channels to vent their anger.

Foreign policy hawks in Delhi have often suggested using the ‘Tibet card’ to pressure China. But this is not the best way to conduct foreign po­licy with China. Taking a firm stand is one thing but being provocative is avoidable. For instance, in October, the United States’ then ambassador to India Richard Verma was allowed to visit Tawang. This infuriated Beijing. Joining hands with the US to thumb our noses at Beijing is unwise. The Narendra Modi government needs to be more prudent in the conduct of its relations with China.

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