(Exclusive): The nosedive in Sino-Indian relations over Dalai Lama‘s visit to Arunachal Pradesh (Southern Tibet to Beijing, integral part of India as far as Delhi is concerned) has left many worried. The Dalai Lama has visited Arunachal Pradesh six times between 1983 and 2009 — so why is Beijing so upset now!
Beijing is not merely upset with the Dalai Lama’s visit but more upset that he was accompanied by India’s junior Home MInister Khiren Rijjuju, who asked Beijing to ‘mind its own business and not interfere in India’s internal affairs.’
Rijjuju is given to provocative tweeting that has sometimes got him into trouble with his boss, PM Narendra Modi.
But what Rijjuju said about Dalai Lama’s visit — asking Beijing to mind its own business — has full approval of Modi.
Or else, he would have been pulled up and he and other smaller leaders would have gone silent on the visit. That did not happen
Arunachal chief minister Pema Khandu, now a BJP politician after defecting from Congress (like Rijjuju), went a step further.
He said Beijing had no right to threaten Delhi on the 14th Dalai Lama’s movement within the country as India shares boundary with Tibet and not China.
“Let me get this straight. China has no business telling us what to do and what not to do because it is not our next-door neighbour,” Khandu told the media.
That is a huge provocation because Khandu seems to be suggesting that Tibet- like Taiwan — is an independent entity.
So India seems to have used this visit to needle China rather hard on something it is very sensitive about — Tibet.
Chinese foreign office spokespersons categorise Tibet — and Taiwan — as core interests.
India may have sheltered the Dalai Lama for a long time but no government before Modi’s has questioned Chinese suzerainity over Tibet.
Nehru may have allowed Indian soil to be used by Tibetan guerrillas fighting Chinese occupation or even got his intelligence to coordinate with US the support for the uprising in the 1950s — but he never questioned whether Tibet was a part of China.
Surely Pema Khandu is not PM, but he is the chief minister of Arunachal and belongs to India’s ruling BJP.
So if he gets away by saying “we have borders with Tibet and not China”, it is as good as saying Tibet is a free entity .
India is upset with China for blocking its entry into Nuclear Suppliers Group and not allowing the UN to declare Jaish chief Masood Azhar a terrorist.
China is upset with India providing for a platform at Mcleodganj last summer for not only Tibetans, but UIghurs, Falungongs and other anti-Beijing dissidents.
The tit-for-tat is spinning out of control. Beijing by fervently opposing the Dalai Lama visit this time and raising its pitch with every passing day turned it into a huge media event.
The huge publicity the visit got only embarassed China and gave Dalai Lama much needed publicity oxygen.
And when the Assamese separatist group ULFA opposed the Dalai Lama’s visit, they not only ended up looking like a Chinese surrogate but also send signals to Delhi that China will not hesistate to needle India in its sensitive northeast if India fingered it on Tibet.
The US may be looking up to China to control the rogue regime of North Korea but China needs to control the nosedive in its relations with India.
India also needs to control the nosedive , more so because it now knows Trump’s US will not oblige Modi on crucial issues like Kashmir and H1B visas for its techies.
So far no serious backroom effort has been visible to bring Sino-Indian relations back on course — as was the case in 2013 when then NSA Shiv Shankar Menon, whose command over Mandarin and contacts in China are the envy of any Sinologists, controlled the border incursions at Chumar and ended up signing the BDCA agreement with Beijing.
What is at stake is the restoration of normal relations between India and China, for which Rajiv Gandhi and Narasimha Rao took giants steps alongwith great Chinese leaders like Deng Xiao Ping.
The 1993 treaty of Peace and Tranquility was a landmark agreement that brought down border tensions.
But it now lies in tatters, what with the promised demilitarisation totally abandoned by both sides and fresh military buildup touching dangerous levels evident all over the Himalayas.
Former US diplomat William. H. Avery has written an interesting book “China’s Nightmare, America’s Dream: India as the Next Global Power”. He suggests India should assert itself firmly against China on all issues — from kicking out China from Sri Lanka to denying Chinese investment for a deep sea port in Bangladesh.
Somewhere in the book, Avery says India is a multi billion dollar arms market and the US should leverage it.
Anyone remotely aware of global politics and economy would know how that could happen — heightened conflict with China will send India rushing to the US for armaments.
US has already replaced Russia as India’s leading supplier of military hardware — and that has happened since the two Asian giants began to abandon the peace initiatives of the 1990s and beef up military muscles on the Himalayas after India and US signed the 2004 nuclear deal.
It is time for both India and China to reverse the collision course and repair the bilateral ties before they nosedive any further.
Subir Bhaumik is a former BBC Correspondent and author