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Why China’s Dalai Lama phobia doesn’t rattle India; By Col. R. Hariharan

C3S Article no: 0023/2017

Nitpicking over the temporal head of Tibet, at best, suits Beijing to needle New Delhi and possibly to please the local audience 

China has once again “warned” India for allowing the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader in exile in India, to visit Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh, in April 2017.  Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told the press that briefing that China was “gravely concerned over information that India has granted permission to the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh.” He did not fail to add the usual tagline   “the Dalai Clique,”  which he said  had “for a long time carried out anti-China separatist activities and on the issue of China-India border has a history of disgraceful performances.”  The Communist Party of China’s tabloid Global Times delivered the “warning” in more acerbic tones , as it usually does.

The Chinese media did the same thing when the Chinese foreign ministry “warned” India   in October 2016, when Arunachal Pradesh Chief  Minister Pema Khandu had invited the Tibetan spiritual leader to visit the state to attend a Buddhist conclave to be held in Tawang in 2017. The Chinese seem to have forgotten the chief minister had good political and religious reasons to do so because  it would provide a lifetime opportunity for  over 160,000 Indian followers living  in the state to have the Dalai Lama’s darshan and seek his blessings.

Without being offensive, union minister for home Kiran Rijiju, who hails from Arunachal Pradesh, pointed out that the Dalai Lama was the guest of the Arunachal State and that “as a devotee I will meet him.” At the same time, Rijiju firmly said, “we are neither going to be dominated by anyone nor shall we dominate any of our neighbours. But we give prime importance to India’s interests.” He was reiterating India’s position on the Dalai Lama, which has remained the same. Only India is saying it more confidently after Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power.  There are two parts to the Chinese objection: visit to Arunachal Pradesh, particularly Tawang, and the other to the Dalai Lama’s continued presence in India.

There is nothing new in China’s allergic reaction to any dignitary visiting Arunachal Pradesh which has been claimed as the Chinese territory of “Southern Tibet.”  Some time back, they objected to the US ambassador to India, Richard Verma visiting Arunachal Pradesh. The Chinese had even objected to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh!

Though Tawang is in the eye of China’s territorial claim in the Northeast,  in November 2006 China’s ambassador to New Delhi Sun Yuxi enlarged the claim to the whole Arunachal Pradesh, trivialising Tawang as “only one of the places” in it. The anachronism of it was,  a week later, China’s President Hu Jintao came on a state visit to New Delhi and the joint declaration issued after the visit spoke of a ten-pronged strategy “to intensify cooperation” between China and India!

The 430-year old Tawang monastery is considered the holiest and the largest Buddhist monastery in the world after the Dalai Lama’s traditional seat at Potala Palace in Lhasa.  This is the reason for Tawang remaining the visible symbol of the living traditions of Tibetan Buddhism, giving hope to 20 million followers around the world dismayed by China’s continuous efforts to crush their identity.China’s “Dalai Lama phobia” has its roots in the Tibetan spiritual leader seeking refuge in India in 1959 to escape the wrath of the Chinese army, which went on a rampage to suppress a mass uprising in Tibet.

China had never taken kindly to India receiving the Dalai Lama and his followers with all the honour in keeping with his exalted status as a spiritual and temporal head of Tibet.  India has helped the Dalai Lama establish his religious abode in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh. From there, he continues to keep alive the Tibetan struggle to preserve their distinct linguistic, cultural and religious traditions. The Dalai Lama’s seat in Dharamsala has become a beacon of attraction for Tibetans fleeing from China’s religious and ethnic persecution. During the last five decades, India had attracted nearly 150,000 Tibetan refugees This must be hurting China’s pride as it is not much of a “testimony” to the much-touted “autonomy” Tibetans enjoy in China. India has gone the extra mile to create infrastructure for education and health care for the Tibetan refugees who live in ‘little Tibets’ dotted all over the country.

China’s description of the 81-year Dalai Lama as a ‘dangerous separatist’ in its official discourse would be considered laughable because Chin does not recognize Masood Azhar, one of the masterminds of Jihadi terrorism as a terrorist.  But in the Chinese eyes, Dalai Lama, respected globally for his contribution to spreading the message of peace and amity, is a “dangerous separatist”.

In fact, the Tibetan spiritual leader has opted for negotiating with the Chinese for autonomy rather than carrying out an armed struggle for Tibet’s independence, although sections of his own followers did not like it. The high watermark of China’s ‘Dalai phobia’ was the award of the Nobel  Peace Prize 1989 to the Dalai Lama, bringing international limelight on the Tibetan cause when China wants the world to forget it. The citation said the award was being given to the Dalai Lama as a “tribute to Mahatma Gandhi” for practising non-violent means of struggle for freedom. Perhaps, the Dalai Lama earned the China’s abusive honorifics like “traitor” and “dangerous terrorist” when he delivered the Nobel A ward acceptance speech. He referred to Tibetans confronting “a calculated and systematic strategy aimed at the destruction of their national and cultural identities.  He also added, “the prize reaffirms our conviction that with truth, courage and determination as our weapons Tibet will be liberated.”

The Dalai Lama’s expression of solidarity of the Tibetan people for the popular movement for democracy in China “crushed by brutal force in June this year [1989]” and that it had rekindled the spirit of freedom among the Chinese people, was perhaps the final straw for the Chinese to black list him, perhaps forever. His words “China cannot escape this spirit of freedom sweeping many parts of the world” underlines China’s problem in digesting the idea of a free society. So we can expect the Chinese to keep calling him names and objecting to India’s asylum for Tibetans. It is not going to make much difference to India-China relations because they know there are much larger issues at stake. Nitpicking over the Dalai Lama, at best, suits the Chinese establishment to needle India and possibly to please the local audience.

(Col R Hariharan, a retired MI officer, served as the head of Intelligence of the Indian Peace Keeping Force from 1987 to 90. He is associated with the Chennai Centre for China Studies. Blog: )

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