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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."

New Delhi plays the Tibet card

July 19, 2010

By Saransh Sehgal
Asia Times (Hong Kong)
July 17, 2010

DHARAMSALA, India - Indian Foreign Secretary
Nirupama Rao's closed-door meeting with the Dalai
Lama and talks with officials of the Tibetan
government in exile, during her July 10-11
weekend visit here, has prompted speculation that
New Delhi plans to play the Tibet card with China.

It was Rao's first visit to Dharamsala - home to
the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and his
followers since 1959 - after she became foreign
secretary last year. The visit came shortly after
the Dalai Lama celebrated his 75th birthday on July 6.

Officially, the foreign office of the Tibetan
government described Rao's visit "as a courtesy
visit to the Dalai Lama". "Rao called on His
Holiness the Dalai Lama and the two discussed
issues of common interest," said Tenzin Taklha, a
spokesman for the Dalai Lama. Taklha refused to give details of the meeting.

However, according to India's DNA (Daily News &
Analysis), Rao conveyed the Indian government's
concern to the Dalai Lama and other Tibetan
officials that they should exercise restraint in
their comments about China so that India-China
relations do not suffer. Rao requested the Dalai
Lama and the Tibetan government in exile not to
go overboard while "making observations about China".

Rao, who met the Dalai Lama and Samdhong
Rinpoche, prime minister of the Tibetan
government in exile on Sunday, July 11, briefed
them on recent India-China talks. India was
worried that the Dalai Lama's remarks could spoil these talks.

India follows a one-China policy and recognizes
Tibet as a part of China. China has often
criticized India for allowing Tibetan refugees to
engage in political activities on its soil. Last
year, New Delhi allowed the Dalai Lama to visit
Arunachal Pradesh, an Indian state that China claims as its territory.

The Dalai Lama usually describes India's position
on Tibet as "over-cautious". In this view, New
Delhi seems wants to play the Tibet card to
please Beijing in hope of warming up ties between the two countries.

Still, China slammed Rao's meeting with the Dalai
Lama. At a regular press conference in Beijing on
Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Qin
Gang said it hoped India would abide by its
commitment not to allow exiled Tibetans to conduct anti-China activities.

"China has expressed its position clearly to the
Indian side over this [the Tibet] issue," Qin
said when asked about Rao's meetings with the
Dalai Lama and Tibetan officials. "The Indian
government has expressed on many occasions to
China that it recognizes Tibet Autonomous Region
as part of the People's Republic of China and it
would not allow exiled Tibetans in India to
conduct anti-China political activities. So we
hope India could abide by its commitments on
Tibet-related issues and properly handle all the issues," he said.

Other analysts believe New Delhi wants to play
the Tibet card to kill two birds with one stone:
a goodwill gesture to tone down the Dalai Lama's
anti-Beijing rhetoric, and leverage in
negotiations with China on sensitive issues.

Noticeably, Rao's weekend trip to Dharamsala came
less than a week after India's National Security
Adviser Shivshankar Menon's July 3-6 visit to Beijing.

As Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's special
envoy, Menon held talks with Chinese Premier Wen
Jiabao, Foreign Minister Yang Jiechi and State
Councilor Dai Bingguo, who is also China's chief
negotiator with India on their border disputes.
The state-run Xinhua News Agency reported that
some sensitive issues were discussed during the meeting.

Moreover, Rao's meeting with the Dalai Lama also
came soon after China announced a nuclear deal
with Pakistan under which it will supply Islamabad with two reactors.

"Whenever there is a perception of China crossing
the red lines of core, sovereignty related
issues, we react by activating the Tibet card,"
Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at the
Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi, told IANS (Indo-Asian News Service).

"This is shadow boxing. It's a way of signaling
to Beijing India's displeasure over some recent
issues like [China's decision to issue] separate
visas for Kashmiris," he added.

Officials from India’s external affairs ministry
in New Delhi refused to comment on the Rao-Dalai
meeting. Even the Dalai Lama's office maintained strict confidentiality.

Rao's visit was kept away from the media, like
earlier visits by her predecessors Syam Saran and
Shiv Shankar Menon. Professor Samdhong Rinpoche,
the prime minister of the Tibetan government in
exile, also said was simply a routine courtesy call.

During her meeting with the Dalai Lama, Rao
reportedly focused on issues related to Tibetans
living in India, their frustrated movement to
gain autonomy from China, and issues related to the security of the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans in exile are gearing up for
parliamentary elections next year, with analysts
suggesting that the next prime minister will
bring in new policies and take a new tack in
negotiations with Beijing. Currently more than
120,000 Tibetans refugees reside in India.
Interestingly, Rao also met Tibet hardliners who
uphold "Rangzen" - full independence for Tibet,
which goes against the Dalai Lama's Middle Way
policy that demands greater autonomy for Tibet under China.

New Delhi believes this hardline sentiment could
grow much stronger, particularly after the Dalai Lama, who is 75, passes away.

Radical Tibetans greeted the Indian foreign
secretary while asking the Indian government to
review its policy towards Tibet. They wrote in a
memorandum that they owed to Indian government
the revival of Tibetan life in India and the
"resurrection of international awareness and confidence within the struggle".

Tenzin Tsundue, a prominent young Tibetan
independence activist, and other Tibetan
signatories to the memorandum, believe that
independence is the only goal. "Only an
independent Tibet can guarantee the survival of
the Tibetan people, our culture and the nation.
The 2008 uprising in Tibet is a clear public
mandate that the Tibetans in Tibet are willing to
even die, but not live under Chinese colonial rule."

The memorandum said: "Whatever may be the
policies being held by His Holiness the Dalai
Lama and the exile government; we believe very
strongly that the goal of the struggle cannot be
anything less than Independence."

The Tibetan government in exile seemed happy with
the secretary's visit. "By and large the visit
went very well and we are very happy with that,"
said Migyur Dorjee, cabinet secretary of the Tibetan government in exile.

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