Modi using Tibet against China in border dispute: Duowei

Want China Times
Staff Reporter

President Xi Jinping with Prime Minister Narendra Modi in New Delhi on Sept. 18. (Photo/Xinhua)

India’s prime minister, Narendra Modi, has made Tibet a major stumbling block for border relations between China and India, says Duowei News, a US-based Chinese political news website.

A Tuesday editorial from Duowei said Chinese president Xi Jinping’s recent visit to New Delhi was far from a complete success given his failure to make inroads to address tensions between the two countries over the disputed India-controlled border region of Arunachal Pradesh, which China claims as a part of southern Tibet, as well as the protests against Chinese rule in Tibet that took place during Xi’s meeting with Modi.

Though Xi celebrated Modi’s 64th birthday and signed a slate of agreements during his visit, he was unable to get India to acknowledge Beijing’s one-China policy, with India’s minister of external affairs Sushma Swaraj saying rather that China should reaffirm the “one-India policy.”

“If we understand China’s sensitivity on Tibet and Taiwan, they should also understand that we have sensitivity about Arunachal Pradesh,” she said shortly prior to Xi’s arrival.

According to Duowei, Modi, who has taken a hardline stance on India’s border issues since becoming prime minister in May, is using Tibet and its exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama as a means to strengthen India’s claim over Arunachal Pradesh.

Tawang, a district in Arunachal Pradesh, is the hometown of the 14th Dalai Lama and the place where he was granted asylum in 1959 following the failed Tibetan uprising, after which Tibet was officially integrated into the People’s Republic of China. Beijing has never forgiven India for offering asylum to the Dalai Lama and remains opposed to any visits by the spirital guru to the region.

For Modi, however, permitting the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh in the face of China’s protests is a way of affirming that the region is Indian territory, Duowei said, which is why he has extended a new invitation for the Dalai Lama to visit the region next year in October and November.

The Dalai Lama has visited the region on four other occasions, each of which came at a time when border tensions between India and China were high, Duowei said. His visit in 1996, for example, came around the time then-Chinese leader Jiang Zeming signed an agreement with India aimed at building trust along the border. His 2003 visit was said to have taken place as India was said to be trying to put pressure on China during the establishment of a mechanism for special representative talks on border disputes. In 2009, the visit came as India increased its troops along the Sino-Indian border to 60,000 and deployed four Su-30 fighter jets to the area.

India’s hospitality to the Dalai Lama appears to have paid off, Duowei said. In 2003, the Dalai Lama told Indian reporters that he believed Tawang was a part of Tibet but in 2008 he said the district belonged to India. He followed up that statement by claiming in June 2009 for the first time that the whole of Arunachal Pradesh was Indian territory.

While Modi acknowledges that Tibet is a part of China, he refuses to acknowledge the one-China principle, Duowei said, adding that he has even hinted at turning Arunachal Pradesh into “a second Tibet.” Doing so and allowing the Dalai Lama to return to his homeland for good, however, would cause India to lose one of its main bargaining chips in its territorial dispute with China, Duowei added.

Modi’s tactics have not stopped at the Dalai Lama either, Duowei said. In May, Modi invited Tibetan prime minister-in-exile Lobsang Sangay to his swearing-in ceremony in New Delhi, marking the first time an Indian prime minister has extended such an honor to exiled Tibetans in India.

China has not been amused by Modi’s latest invite to the Dalai Lama, Duowei said, as evidenced by Xi’s decision to replace Wei Wei with Le Yucheng as ambassador to India shortly before his visit and also canceling a scheduled press conference with Indian reporters on Sept. 22.

Modi’s actions make it clear that is trying to merge Tibet into China and India’s border dispute, Duowei said. Tibet has already been a major issue for China-India relations over the last half century, and it appears now that it will continue to be a major obstable for diplomatic ties in the foreseeable future, it added.