Dalai Lama’s Visit to Arunanchal Pradesh and China’s Belligerence

The reaction of China against Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunanchal Pradesh holds no ‘valid reason’ except political anxiety.

The visit of His holiness the Dalai Lama to India’s state of Arunanchal Pradesh in the month of April, has drawn noticeable concern from China. In an unceremonious set of reactions, China displayed its anguishes with the visit by relating it with an ‘unsettled border dispute’ with India in the eastern sector, also referring for its commitment to defend its ‘core interest’ vis a vis India. However, the context of this visit and background of India-China relation in regard to Tibet makes a compelling case for Chinese ‘unfounded concern’ in the given context.

Looking back to the history of India-China border dispute, the ‘Tibet card’ has been well played by Chinese at different periods of time.  Firstly, this became a point of context for China in their diplomatic negotiations with India on border dispute from 1957 to 1962. China also seems to have overplayed the notion of India’s involvement in Tibetan uprising in mid 1950s. This was the time when role of the United States (US) investigative agency CIA was more vital and decisive in order to escalate problems in Tibet (JK Knaus, Orphans of Cold War, 1999)

Secondly, the use of Tibet card also forms key component of ‘Forward Policy School’ of thought in China and in West in regard to 1962 India-China war which always shifts the blame of instigating the war on Indian policy choices at that time. In both the cases, the objective assessment of fact suggests a rather different and truthful theory. Interestingly, in both cases India’s role was peaceful and justified with no provocation to China.

Rather than questioning the presence of Thubten Norbu in US since July, 1951 as a ‘motivating factor’ behind Tibetan uprising in 1950s, China seems to have ignored the Indian reprimand of Gyalo Thondup in 1953 at Gangtok to warn him in person not to carry out political activities on Indian soil. Simply put, India has no such role in CIAs covert operation in Tibet. Rather China took the advantage of India’s weak positioning and security intelligence to its favour in 1962 war.

Thirdly, it is largely accepted that Tibet had become independent when the Manchu Resident and the remnants of his military escort left its soil in January 1913. In between 1913 to 1949, China was using more ‘assertion’ rather than ‘exertion’ over Tibet based on historical maps. After PLAs march into the Tibet in October 1950 and signing of ‘Peaceful Liberation of Tibet (17 Point Agreement), Tibet almost found itself incorporated with the China.

During the signing of ‘Panchsheel Agreement’ in April 1954 between both the countries, India recognized the ‘Tibetan region of China’ as a part of the PRC. But the same was not reciprocated by China in terms of India’s sovereignty on Jammu and Kashmir (J&K). China has also not even spoken officially on the ‘One India Policy’ as put forward by Indian Minister of External Affairs, Smt. Sushma Swaraj.

China must understand that ever since his stay in India, the Dalai Lama has never been allowed to ‘play politics’ because India does not want to playthe Tibet card with China. This was the‘sixth visit’ of His Holiness to the state of Arunanchal Pradesh, which is an integral part of India. HH Dalai Lama enjoys respect in the heart of every Indian as a ‘religious leader’ and so he is widely celebrated amongst all. So the reaction of China against his visit holds no valid reason except political anxiety.

China started referring to Arunachal Pradesh as ‘Southern Tibet’ since 2006 in their official records. If we look back to history, this stands true with the Chinese ‘changing position’ on border negotiations with India.

At times when the theatre of global politics has shifted to Asia, the political cooperation between India and China is necessary. This is preliminary to realize the dream of 21st century as ‘Asian Century’ as enunciatedby Prime Minister Narendra Modi. While Manmohan-Jintao era witnessed the ‘Strategic Partnership’ between India and China, the new leadership led by Modi-Xi desires to move towards ‘Comprehensive developmental partnership’ between both countries. There is enough space for both to prosper and secure their national interest.

In the given context some wider economic cooperation in terms of ‘sectoral engagement’ between both the countries has increased in areas like sister cities, railways, infrastructure and manufacturing. However, the political context of bilateral relations has not moved forward. On the issue of India’s membership to NSG and listing of Pakistan based terrorist Masood Azhar in UN list of terrorist, China has found less reasonable excuses against India. And now its opposition to HH Dalai Lama’s visit has witnessed profound reactions in India. China must realize that it needs to reflect upon aspirational India and not allow any untimely opportunity to effect Indian sensitivities because it takes much time to regain the ‘lost trust’ between two countries. In case of India and China the level of ‘high trust deficit’ is already an accepted fact.

China must acknowledge that India beinga ‘civilizational state’ has allowed Dalai Lama to establish his religious abode in Dharamsala, in recognition to the distinct linguistic, cultural and religious traditions of Tibetans. The nature of this relationship is more cultural than political. In China too a growing number of people are rediscovering the country’s dormant Buddhist traditions inspired from Tibetan Budhism. At the time when new age Chinese people are seeking ‘religious revival’ through Buddhism this newly found and more vocal ‘hard stand’ of China against its preacher seems largely mistaken. This not only cause damage to China’s soft power credentials but its respect for cultural prudence as well.

Considering China’s desire to be a dominant World power, it must act in more prudent manner rather than being more reactive to a rightful visit by any religious leader who symbolizes the message of peace and non-violence.

(Abhishek Pratap Singh is a Fellow, South Asia Democratic Forum (SADF), Brussels and Doctoral Candidate, Centre for East Asian Studies (Chinese), Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi.)