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"On my part, I remain committed to the process of dialogue. It is my firm belief that dialogue and a willingness to look with honesty and clarity at the reality of Tibet can lead us to a viable solution."

Dalai Lama calm in the eye of a storm

November 13, 2009

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times
November 11, 2009

TAWANG, Arunachal Pradesh, India -- Ignoring
Chinese protests, India allowed the Dalai Lama to
travel on Sunday to the monastery town of Tawang
in the disputed state of Arunachal Pradesh, which
lies on India's Tibetan border. There, the
Tibetan spiritual leader in exile was greeted by
thousands of pilgrims who had braved long treks
and icy temperatures to see him.

The Dalai Lama's visit comes amid rising tensions
between India and China over the sovereignty of
Arunachal Pradesh, which Beijing refers to as
"southern Tibet". To avoid infuriating Beijing,
India has been reluctant in recent years to allow
the Dalai Lama to travel to Tawang - the
second-holiest city in Tibetan Buddhism after
Lhasa, Tibet's capital, in the Tibet Autonomous Region of China.

Beijing has said the Dalai Lama's trip is an
attempt to promote independence for Tibet, a
region that accounts for about one-sixth of
Chinese territory. "The Dalai Lama is a liar ...
He is always involved in activities that
undermine the relations between China and other
countries as well as ethnic separatist
activities," Foreign Ministry spokesman Ma Zhaoxu
said at a news briefing last week in Beijing.

The Dalai Lama has made previous visits to
Tawang, but these merited little response from
China, Vijay Kranti, editor of a newspaper for
the Tibetan exile community in India, told the
Los Angles Times. He said China's reaction had
turned this visit into a bigger deal than it
otherwise would be. "The Dalai Lama's best
advertising agency is Beijing," Kranti said.

Beijing has become more sensitive and critical of
the Dalai Lama's activities since bloody
anti-government riots erupted in Lhasa in March
2008, marring the lead-up to the Beijing Summer
Olympic Games. Since then, the Chinese government
has put diplomatic pressure on foreign leaders to
not meet the Dalai Lama or let him engage in high-profile political activities.

The Chinese Communist Party's (CCP's) flagship
newspaper, the People's Daily, in unusually
aggressive rhetoric, attacked India in
mid-October as "a previous victim of colonialism
and hegemony [that has] started to dream about developing its own hegemony".

As countries - including the United States -
suffer the effects of the global financial
crisis, many seem be shying away from the Tibet
issue so as not to offend China. India, however,
appears to be taking a firmer stance by allowing
the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang.

But analysts say the Dalai Lama visit is India's
way to show its firm grip on Arunachal Pradesh.
China and India have held 13 rounds of boundary
talks since 2007 over the disputed area. But
these have stalled due to China's claim of
sovereignty over Arunachal Pradesh, while India -
which still sees its defeat in the brief border
war in 1962 as a national humiliation - does not
want to relinquish a single inch of land.

India claims that China has illegally occupied
43,180 square kilometers of Jammu and Kashmir,
including 5,180 square kilometers ceded to
Beijing by Islamabad under the Sino-Pakistan
boundary agreement in 1963. China accuses India
of possessing some 90,000 square kilometers of
its territory, mostly in Arunachal Pradesh.

Economically and in geopolitical stature, China
and India - the world's two largest countries in
terms of populations and land areas - have risen
fast in recent years. While trade and economic
ties between China and India are growing,
bilateral competition is also on the rise. One's
decline could benefit the other's rise.

Wary of a growing Chinese presence in South Asia,
New Delhi may see the Tibet issue as a way to
limit China's influence in the region. With
United States President Barack Obama about to
start his first official visit to Asia, including
China, now could be a good opportunity for New Delhi to play the Tibet card.

Tibetans in exile were greatly disappointed when
Obama refused to meet the Dalai Lama during his
visit to Washington last month. Canadian Prime
Minister Stephen Joseph Harper (who will also
visit China in December) and Australian Prime
Minister Kevin Rudd also declined to meet the
Dalai Lama when he visited their countries this year.

With India defying Beijing, Tibetans in exile now
hope Obama will not only keep his promise to meet
the Dalai Lama after his Beijing trip, but also
bring up the Tibet issue during his talks with
Chinese leaders. Indian politicians would enjoy
seeing the US put pressure on China on this
issue, and New Delhi certainly does not want
Beijing and Washington to grow closer.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told his
Chinese counterpart, Wen Jiabao, on the sidelines
of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations
summit in Thailand last month that "the Dalai
Lama is our honored guest; he is a religious
leader". Indian Minister for Indian External
Affairs S M Krishna also said that the Dalai Lama
was free to visit any part of India.

India's decision to allow the Dalai Lama visit
has been generally welcomed by Tibetans in exile.
Professor Samdhong Rinpoche, the prime minister
of the Tibetan government in exile, based in
Dharamsala in India, gave a brief interview to
Asia Times Online shortly before the Dalai Lama set off for his Tawang trip.

Asia Times Online: Would you like to comment on the Dalai Lama visit?

Samdhong Rinpoche: India's stand on the Dalai
Lama is wonderful, exemplary and a model for the rest of the world.

ATol: Would you say India is braver than other
nations in defying Beijing, in regard to the Dalai Lama issue?

SR: Yes, I agree with your view. As I said
before, India stands for truth, and truth has unparalleled strength.

ATol: Do you think India's stance provides a
lesson for world leaders, especially Obama's China diplomacy?

SR: Any action which is based on truth and
principle always gives lessons to humanity, including [world] leaders.

Tenzin Norsang, the joint secretary of the
Tibetan Youth Congress (TYC) - the most radical
Tibetan group explicitly seeking Tibet independence, had a different view.

"India is using the Dalai Lama as a political
tool to deal with its own issues. By letting the
Dalai Lama visit the disputed territory, India is
making clear its position that that Arunachal
pradesh is Indian territory," he said.

"However, India's bravery towards China will
definitely give world leaders a lesson, since
everybody is now turning from democracy towards
communism [as a result of the global financial
crisis]. It surely is a lesson with long-term
effects. In these changing times, India has
become braver than others in not letting China bully us," added Norsang.

A young monk named Sherbu from Tawang Monastery,
who saw the Dalai Lama on Sunday, described it as
the "experience of a lifetime." "He waved back at
us and I consider this to be a blessing for me and the people here."

Sherba Lama, a Tibetan who trekked to Tawang from
a distant border village to attend the Dalai
Lama's religious discourse, said, "He is our god,
he is the living Buddha. A glimpse of the Dalai
Lama charges you with spiritual power."

At the Dalai Lama's prayer meeting, Kiran Rijiju,
leader of the Indian People's Party and a former
member of the Indian parliament, said, "It's a
socio-religious visit. Our neighbor [China]
should not try to politicize his holiness's
visit. He has come here to spread the message of
peace and harmony. We want to live in peace and
revive our trade links with Tibet."

It may be growing trade links between India and
China - both members of the BRIC bloc along with
Brazil and Russia - that has kept a lid on the simmering border tensions.

Despite verbal criticisms, Beijing has so far
refrained from taking any substantial action over
the Dalai Lama's Tawang visit. Chinese officials
have also recently played down reports of
tensions between the two countries, with some
saying the tension was created by the Indian media.

New Delhi has barred foreign journalists from
traveling to Arunachal Pradesh to cover the Dalai
Lama's visit, which analysts have seen as a
concession to Chinese sensibilities.

The Dalai Lama has also played down the
significance of his visit. "My visit here is
non-political," he said on his arrival. "There
are a lot of emotions involved here," he said.
"When I escaped from China in 1959, I was
mentally and physically very weak. The Chinese
did not pursue us in 1959, but when I reached
India, they started speaking against me."

Saransh Sehgal is a contributor based in
Dharamsala, India, who can be reached at info@mcllo.com .
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