Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama will undertake a visit to Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh on April 5. The visit is taking place despite China’s warning of “severe damage” to relations with India and increased instability along China-India border.
Tawang has a special place in the hearts of millions of Buddhists across the world. Moreover, the 430-year-old monastery in this mountainous town is considered the holiest and the largest in the world, second only to the Dalai Lama’s Potala Palace in Lhasa. Therefore, Tawang remains the visible symbol of the living traditions of Tibetan Buddhism. This is what hurts China the most.
In spite of China’s continuous efforts to tear to pieces the identity of Tibetan Buddhists, Tawang monastery serves as a beacon of hope to over 20 million followers of the Dalai Lama. And it is where India gets a big stick to beat China. In fact, China’s obstructionist attitude towards India on the issues of membership to the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG) and Jaish-e-Mohammed (JEM) chief, Masood Azhar, is giving New Delhi sufficient ground to pay Beijing in the same coin.
It brushed aside China’s protest following the visit of three-member parliamentary delegation from Taiwan this year on February 12. BJP leader Vijay Jolly along with Director-General of India-Taipei Association, Manish Chauhan attended swearing-in ceremony of Taiwan’s first female President Tsai Ing-wen on May 23, 2016. It happened just a day before Pranab Mukherjee’s maiden presidential visit to China, indicating categorically that New Delhi is not ready to be cowed down by Beijing.
Why China Gets Unnerved by the Dalai Lama?
China feels that the Dalai Lama carries out anti-China separatist activity by sitting inside India. However, living in exile in Dharamsala in Himachal Pradesh after a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the Dalai Lama has never indulged in any anti-China activity from Indian soil.
But then, yes, he has talked about Chinese authoritarian system, human rights abuses and corruption in China. Whether it has been his public speeches or press interviews, the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhists has always tried to draw Chinese Communist rulers’ attention towards the virtue of democracy. He has also sought transparency in public dealing, freedom of press and judicial independence in China. But democracy is anathema to China; it also views religion as “poison”.
Chinese leaders feel that the 83-year-old Buddhist monk teaches his followers extreme religious ideology which, according to them, is a direct challenge to the hegemony of the country’s Communist Party. They also feel that Tibetans cannot abandon loyalty to the Dalai Lama and will continue to resist Chinese rule, so long as he is alive. In this all, Beijing holds New Delhi responsible for taking kindly to receiving the Dalai Lama and his followers with all honour.
China blames India for not only helping the Tibetan monk in maintaining his exalted status as a spiritual and temporal head of Tibetan Buddhists, but also in establishing his religious-cum-administrative seat in Dharamsala. Chinese leaders say Dharamsala seat is used by the Dalai Lama to keep alive the Tibetan struggle to maintain their distinct linguistic, religious and cultural traditions.
Is Taiwan a Bugbear?
For Beijing, Taiwan is a breakaway province that will ultimately become part of the mainland China again. But Taiwanese want their nation to remain independent. They also argue that Taiwan is a sovereign state with its own constitution, democratically elected leaders and over 300,000 active military personnel in its armed forces.
America is Taiwan’s only ally and it is helping Taipei, capital of Taiwan, in maintaining its independence. In 1996, when China, in its bid to influence Taiwan’s first direct presidential election, carried out provocative missile tests, the then US administration headed by President Bill Clinton ordered the biggest display of the US military power in Asia by sending war ships to the Taiwan Strait.
Despite this, Beijing has not spared to show annoyance against those who don’t follow the ‘one China’ policy, envisaging Taiwan as part of mainland China. It also frowns on those who try to have political contact with Taiwanese leadership. US President Donald Trump’s telephonic talk with the Taiwanese President is case in point. Breaking a rule, continuing since John F Kennedy’s time, 45th US President Trump made a call to Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen. This caused heartburns among the Chinese leaders.
They saw it as Americans’ move to sabotage Beijing’s ‘One China’ policy. But a few days before telephonic talks between the US and Chinese Presidents, Trump took a U-turn and reiterated his country’s stand on ‘One China’ policy.
India has in recent years gone away from pledging its commitment towards this policy of China. Since 2010, no joint statements between the two sides have underlined the ‘One China’ policy. Under the leadership of Narendra Modi, India has, moreover, begun to treat China in the same way the latter does towards the former on the issue of territorial integrity.
Subtle efforts are being made to play the Taiwan card, by allowing increased contacts between political leaders of the two sides and increasing Taiwanese footprints in Indian IT and Telecom markets.
Can China Wage War Against India?
China is indeed very powerful both economically and militarily. But India, too, is not weak. Third economic power of Asia after China and Japan, India’s defence capability ranks fourth after the US, Russia and China. Then, in contrast to 1962, India is today a nuclear power with missile capacity to hit Beijing and several other cities of China. But there is a feeling among some defence strategists that in order to punish India, China may launch limited border war.
However, New Delhi is ready to take calculated risks against China. To make it understand India’s concerns on China-Pakistan Economic Corridor and Masood Azhar issues, New Delhi would play the Dalai Lama and Taiwan cards openly and in consonance with its national interests. Scheduled visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh in April is a case in point here.