The Dalai Lama began his visit to the Arunachal Pradesh on 8 November 2009. The official comment regarding the visit made in advance by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson (4 November 2009) did not blame India; it only criticised the exiled spiritual leader for trying to “sabotage China’s ties with other countries” while at the same time positively evaluating the significance of the recently held meeting between the prime ministers of the two countries in Thailand for bilateral ties. In contrast, latest comments by some scholars in the PRC’s state-controlled English and Chinese language media seem to indicate rather a new trend – connecting the visit with New Delhi’s motives.
The closest occasion when the Chinese comments came to connect the Dalai Lama’s ‘separatist activities’ to India last time was a month ago (“Dalai Lama Goes Further Traitorous Road”, China Tibet Online, 22 October 2009). The allegation at that time was that the “Dalai Clique closely cooperates with India, whenever border negotiations are held or the Indian side maliciously speculate over the border dispute”. The Chinese media now appear to be taking the level of criticism to the next stage, attributing motives on the part of the Indian government for supporting the Dalai Lama’s activities; the methodology used however looks subtle as they are mostly using Chinese scholars in this regard, avoiding direct comments as much as possible.
Anti-India media rhetoric in China began right on the day of the Dalai Lama’s arrival in Tawang. A report entitled “ Do not use the Dalai Card Against China’, published by Huanqiu (Chinese language edition of Global Times, 8 November 2009)”, declared Tawang as PRC’s territory and expressed China’s opposition to the Dalai Lama’s ‘splittist’ activities being carried out under the ‘protection given by India’. It quoted an unidentified scholar as having given a warning that ‘if India does not abandon its political manipulation of the Dalai Lama, the Chinese government, facing pressure from the people, will be forced to resort to measures for striking a blow to the Indian interests’. Interpreting various statements made in India and the US, it found that the two countries are behind the Dalai Lama’s visit to ‘Southern Tibet’.
A subsequent write-up captioned “ India Covets Dalai Lama’s Visit”(People’s Daily Online, 9 November 2009, reproduced by ‘ Huanqiu’, the Chinese language edition of the Global Times, 9 November 2009), quoted an analyst as saying that “India may have forgotten the lesson of 1962, when its repeated provocation resulted in military clashes and India is now on this wrong track again”. It then highlighted comments made by a Chinese researcher Professor Hu Shisheng, belonging to the Ministry of State Security-affiliated China International Centre for Contemporary International Relations (CICIR), that the visit is taking place at a ‘critical moment’ under India’s encouragement and New Delhi’s strategy is to weaken China’s ability in solving the ‘Southern Tibet’ issue under the principles of ‘nationality and religion’. According to Huanqiu, the scholar further observed that India is utilising the visit for making that issue sharper and sharper, so that China has to speed up a solution to the issue, “in accordance with Indian formula”, to which Beijing has to give a clear response”. (Remarks: as translated from the original Chinese language report- slightly differs with People’s Daily English version).
Another article of Huanqiu (Chinese, 9 November 2009) captioned “Indian circles are glorifying Dalai Lama’s visit to ‘Southern Tibet’, quoted Colonel Dai Xu of the Chinese Air Force, a frequent writer on India, as saying that “the people in the PRC are against India’s manipulation of and open support to the Dalai Lama’s traitorous actions as well as letting him say that ‘Southern Tibet’ is India’s territory. India’s such attitude is a ‘political’ challenge to China”.
As another Chinese signal to link India with the visit, references have been made in the Chinese language media, based on Indian media reports about the deployment of Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles by India, as a measure to ensure the security of the Dalai Lama during his visit. Huanqiu (9 November 2009) again referred to remarks made by Colonel Dai Xu that if true, such deployment is an “ unprecedented military provocation” against China.
Chinese media are also exploiting the opportunity of the ongoing visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh, for reasserting the PRC’s territorial claims over the ‘India-occupied Southern Tibet’. Huanqiu (9 November 2009) has carried the opinions of Liu Hong of China Tibetology Research Centre that the Dalai Lama, by saying in Tokyo that a majority of Arunachal Pradesh belonged to India prior to the Sino-Indian war and the Chinese army occupied them later, indeed ‘sold out’ his nationality and religion to India. Liu added that prior to 1959, the exiled leader never recognised ‘Southern Tibet’ as Indian territory. Huanqiu went on to say that Tawang, lying east of McMahon line, remains ‘greatest focal point’ of the Sino-Indian border issue. “ The British pushed the ‘traditional and customary line’ between China and India to the North, and reached a McMahon line; India, after 1947, occupied Tawang in 1951 as well as 90000 Sq Kms of territory in the South in 1953, made McMahon line as marking the border in 1954, set up the State of Arunachal Pradesh under central control in 1986 and since then is taking steps to legalise its occupation”, Huanqiu further charged.
The Chinese media outbursts noticed prior to the meeting of the two prime ministers in Thailand were dominated by the use of harsh words like ‘consequences for India of a potential conflict with China’ and ‘ the desire of India to start an immediate war with China’. Just on 4 November 2009, the People’s Daily described the ‘consensus’ reached by the two leaders during that meeting ‘as just like a gentle breeze, clearing up all the suspicion and misunderstanding that have hindered bilateral relations over the past decades’. It sounded as if there will be no more mudslinging of India by the PRC press. Now comes the counter current, disproving such expectations. Media references from the Chinese side now to the 1962 war, ‘striking a blow to Indian interests’, ‘ military provocation from India’ etc have vitiated the atmosphere once again. There could be a rehash from the Indian public opinion, bringing the situation back to square one. One can see there is an upsurge already in the Indian and Chinese nationalisms and the attitudes of the two peoples are getting sharpened on issues like that involving territory, affecting public sentiments.
The latest Chinese media pronouncements signal that Beijing does not yet take a benevolent view of India’s intentions vis-à-vis China. In particular, it seems to be unhappy with India continuing to host the Dalai Lama and the functioning of the Tibet ‘exiled government’ from the Indian soil. Notable in this connection is its recent characterisation of the ‘exiled government’ as an ‘overseas separatist group’, which remains a ‘source of turbulence for China.’ (United Front Department official Zhu Weiqun, German ‘Focus’ magazine, 5 October 2009). The PRC’s message at this juncture to India seems to be that the Dalai Lama factor has emerged as a bilateral issue equal in importance to that of the boundary question. The remarks of Premier Wen Jiabao some time back that the ‘Tibet Issue’ is a ‘sensitive’ one between China and India may have echoed the same already.
For New Delhi, important would be to assess what the latest Chinese media stand would mean for the overall Sino-Indian relations. As the boundary issue and the Dalai Lama factor get more and more intertwined, there is a possibility of further complications arising in bilateral ties.. An urgent necessity for both the sides therefore may lie in their ability to handle the mistrust that may grow further with finesse and sagacity. It is hoped that the leaders of the two nations will continue to show mature statesmanship in addressing frictions as they arise; that may especially include media diatribes against each other. New Delhi and Beijing should miss no opportunity on this account, as friendship between the two nations is very important for the stability and prosperity of the 21st century Asia.
(The writer, Mr D.S.Rajan, is Director of Chennai Centre for China Studies, Chennai, India.Email:email@example.com)