Join our Mailing List

"I believe that to meet the challenges of our times, human beings will have to develop a greater sense of universal responsibility. It is the foundation for world peace."

Defying China, Dalai Lama visits Indian town near Tibetan border

November 9, 2009

The Dalai Lama and thousands of pilgrims gather
for five days of prayer in the monastery town of
Tawang. The visit to a disputed region tests China-India ties.
By Mark Magnier, mark.magnier@latimes.com
The Los Angeles Times
November 8, 2009

Reporting from New Delhi -- Ignoring Chinese
protests, the Dalai Lama traveled to a disputed
part of India near China's Tibetan border today
as thousands of pilgrims braved cold weather to
catch a glimpse of their spiritual leader.

The Dalai Lama, who was sharply criticized by
Beijing before the visit, expects to spend five
days praying and instructing Buddhist worshipers
in the monastery town of Tawang in the northern
Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. His last visit there was in 2003.

China has accused the spiritual leader of making
the trip to further the movement for an
independent Tibet, a region that accounts for
about one-sixth of Chinese territory.

"He is always involved in activities that
undermine the relations between China and other
countries as well as ethnic separatist
activities," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman
Ma Zhaoxu said in a regular news briefing this
month in Beijing. "The Dalai Lama is a liar."

Although Beijing has leveled similar accusations
for decades, its charges have become more pointed
since deadly anti-government riots broke out in
March 2008 across the Tibetan plateau.

Past visits by the Dalai Lama to Tawang have
merited little response from China, said Vijay
Kranti, editor of Tibbat Desh, a newspaper for
the Tibetan exile community in India. China's
reaction this time has made it into a bigger deal
than it otherwise would be, he said. "The Dalai
Lama's best advertising agency is Beijing," Kranti said.

Tawang is significant politically and
religiously. Not only has it been at the heart of
a border dispute between India and China since
their 1962 war; China briefly occupied the town
during the conflict before pulling back to the current demarcation.

The town of 39,000 is also the site of one of
Tibetan Buddhism's largest monasteries and a
place where the Dalai Lama took refuge 50 years
ago when he fled Tibet ahead of pursuing Chinese soldiers.

Residents of Tawang, many from the Monpa tribe,
maintain close links with Tibetans in China,
adding to China's distrust, and the sixth Dalai
Lama, enthroned in October 1697, came from Tawang.

And Beijing, which often blames domestic
instability on outside instigators, is fearful
the current Dalai Lama, age 74, might name a successor from this area.

Kranti said while China has cranked up the
rhetoric in advance of this visit, India has
pushed back, a welcome development.

"By saying he's got every right to go and is an
honored guest, India is sending a message to
China, standing up a bit more to Chinese hegemony," he said.

In recent months, relations between the two Asian
giants have become strained as India and China,
both enjoying rapid economic growth and vying for
regional influence, have sparred over visa
policy, trade and border issues. Few of these issues are new, however.

"In actual substance, I see no development," said
Salman Haider, a former Indian foreign secretary.
"But the atmospherics are certainly undesirable.
It shows an edginess has crept into the bilateral relationship."

Indian news media cite frequent cases of Chinese
soldiers firing weapons into India and leaving
Chinese-brand cigarette packs and the word
"China" painted on rock faces on Indian territory.

Although the 1962 conflict between the two
giants, which China essentially won, spotlighted
the border dispute, the roots of their
differences involving about 56,000 square miles
of Arunachel Pradesh stretch back nearly a
century. India recognizes the so-called McMahon
Line, a border drawn by India's British rulers in
1914, which China does not. China also occupies a
part of Kashmir claimed by India.

In recent years, eager for regional stability,
China has resolved most of its land-border
disputes with other neighbors. Despite meeting 13
times, however, India and China have not made
much progress, in part because this area under
dispute is far more populous and culturally
sensitive than those shared with Russia and others.

Adding to recent distrust, China tried to block
part of an Asian Development Bank loan to India
that included projects for Arunachel Pradesh. And
China accuses India of discriminating against
Chinese workers with its visa policy.

The two countries have tried in recent weeks to
lower the temperature given their shared
interests. Late last month, Chinese Premier Wen
Jiabao and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
held a side meeting during an Asian regional conference.

India, in an apparent effort to placate China,
refused to grant permits to foreign journalists
hoping to travel to the restricted region to cover the Dalai Lama's trip.

Both sides have significant domestic problems
they'd prefer to expend their time and resources
on, even as their economic links have grown
stronger. Bilateral trade has expanded by 50%
annually over the last five years to reach $51.8 billion in 2008.

"Neither side can afford this," Haider said.
"China is aspiring to a global role, expanding
rapidly and sees Asia as an extension of its
bailiwick. Similarly with India, we have enough
on our plate without trying to pick quarrels."
CTC National Office 1425 René-Lévesque Blvd West, 3rd Floor, Montréal, Québec, Canada, H3G 1T7
T: (514) 487-0665   ctcoffice@tibet.ca
Developed by plank