THE Dalai Lama arrived in India’s northeastern state of Assam on Saturday ahead of a visit to neighbouring Arunachal Pradesh, a region run by New Delhi but claimed by Beijing.
The Tibetan spiritual leader’s trip is expected to fuel tensions between India and China over strategic issues such as China‘s growing ties with India’s arch-rival Pakistan. China claims the region in the eastern Himalayas as “South Tibet”.
The Dalai Lama told Reuters TV at the airport in the Assam city of Guwahati that his visit was to promote religious harmony.
He said he was happy to be back in a region that revived his memories of escape from Tibet in 1959, after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
“I still feel the feeling of that time,” he said.
China, which considers the Dalai Lama a dangerous separatist, said on Friday it was “resolutely opposed” to the visit, and urged India to “avoid taking any actions that would further complicate the border issue”.
Indian government representatives told Reuters in early March that officials would meet the Dalai Lama while he is on a religious trip to Arunachal Pradesh from April 4-13 and that as a secular democracy they would not stop him from travelling to any part of the country.
China claims the region in the eastern Himalayas as “South Tibet”, and it has denounced foreign and even Indian leaders’ visits to the region as attempts to bolster New Delhi’s territorial claims.
“China resolutely opposes the 14th Dalai Lama visiting border regions disputed by China and India,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang told a regular briefing in Beijing.
“The Dalai clique has made disgraceful performances on the China-India border issue,” he added.
A spokesman for India‘s Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday that his government’s position remained unchanged. “The Dalai Lama is a religious leader and no political meaning needs to be to attached to his activity,” Gopal Baglay said.
Visits by the Dalai Lama are planned months, if not years, in advance, and approval for the trip predates recent disagreements between China and India.
The Dalai Lama is expected to meet junior home minister Kiren Rijiju, who is an Arunachal native and the point man of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Tibetan issues, while visiting the Buddhist Tawang monastery.
The Dalai Lama last visited the monastery in 2009. He also briefly stayed there after fleeing Tibet in 1959 following a failed uprising against Chinese rule.
“During the Dalai Lama’s last visit to Tawang, he said that the area is part of India. This is untrue and it undermines friendly relations between China and India,” Lian Xiangming, an academic from China’s government-run China Tibetology Research Center, said on March 23 at an event in Beijing.
“Historically, Tawang was under Deprung temple (in the Tibetan capital of Lhasa) and had to make contributions to the regional government, so this means that Tawang is in itself a part of Tibet,” he said.
“Given Tawang is a part of Tibet and Tibet is a part of China, it is hard to say there is any logical problem here.”