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Dalai Lama defends border visit

November 9, 2009

By Amy Kazmin in New Delhi and Geoff Dyer in Beijing
The Financial Times
November 8, 2009

The Tibetan Buddhist spiritual leader, the Dalai
Lama, denied any political motive in visiting a
sacred town on India’s border with Tibet, as he
began a five-day pilgrimage that has generated
intense friction between Beijing and New Delhi.

Greeted in icy temperatures by thousands of
followers at the centuries-old monastery in the
Himalayan village of Tawang, the Dalai Lama
rebuffed Chinese accusations that he was trying
to stir up tensions between two Asian powers by
travelling to the town, located in India’s
isolated north-eastern state of Arunachal Pradesh.

"My visit here is non-political," he said.

His visit comes amid rising tensions between
India and China over sovereignty of Arunachal
Pradesh, which India controls, but which Beijing
refers to as "southern Tibet" and has been
increasingly vocal in claiming as its own.

Beijing revived the seemingly dormant border
dispute last year when it tried to block an Asian
Development Bank country strategy for India,
citing the plans for loans to develop water infrastructure in the remote state.

While India had been reluctant in recent years to
allow the Dalai Lama to travel to Tawang -- the
second-holiest city in Tibetan Buddhism after
Lhasa, analysts said its decision to allow the
trip was an assertion of India’s sovereignty over the area.

Beijing initially reacted angrily to the trip,
with Ma Zhaoxu, a foreign ministry spokesman,
saying it exposed the "anti-China and separatist nature of the Dalai clique."

The People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist party
mouthpiece, also attacked India in unusually
aggressive terms, accusing it of becoming
"narrow-minded and intolerant of outside criticism”.

"A previous victim of colonialism and hegemony
started to dream about developing its own hegemony," the editorial said.

However, Chinese officials have played down
reports of tensions between the two countries,
with some saying the mood of ill-feeling was created by Indian media.

This week, New Delhi barred foreign journalists
from travelling to Arunachal Pradesh to cover the
visit, which analysts have seen as a concession to Chinese sensibilities.
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