The Monk in the Room


Recent chilly relations between China-India are set to be taken a degree or two cooler, our India correspondent Madhav Nalapat tells me.

The problem is an impending visit by the Dalai Lama, who is set to spend much of November in India’s Arunachal Pradesh. According to Nalapat, the planned visit from early next month cast a shadow over a meeting this week of the foreign ministers of China, India and Russia that took place in Bangalore. He said there was virtually nothing of substance to show for the meeting, despite frequent exchanges between Indian Foreign Minister S M Krishna and his PRC counterpart, Yang Jiechi.

Nalapat explained to me his take on the problems:

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‘The Dalai Lama’s visit is expected to further enhance the hold he has over the population of that state. And this is where the problem lies for the Chinese. Beijing claims Arunachal as part of the PRC, and has refused to recognize it as a part of the union of India. Seeing the Dalai Lama as a dangerous ‘splittist’, the Hu Jintao administration is wary of the spread of the Dalai Lama’s influence in Arunachal Pradesh. Hence, there have been significant hints to the Indian side it should cancel the visit, a request that has thus far been ignored.’

And he added these differences are fundamental to the current frostiness, perhaps even more so than the recent border tensions.

‘The root of Beijing’s mistrust of Delhi is this soft-spoken monk, who has been an honoured guest in India since being exiled, together with about 120,000 other Tibetans. The use of India as the platform for the Dalai Lama and his flock infuriates Beijing, thereby postponing a resolution of pending issues between the two countries. Clearly, the Chinese side is holding up agreement on matters such as the border as a lever to get India to make the Tibetan community within the country as unwelcome as they found themselves in Maoist-controlled Nepal. And despite its Buddhist majority, even Sri Lanka is wary of Chinese sensibilities, and has avoided a welcome to the Tibetan exiles. The only regional exception is India.’

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