The Dalai Lama, while on his controversial visit to India, declared Tibet was “not seeking independence” from China, but instead wanted “meaningful autonomy”. He also rejected China’s claim India was using him as a political pawn.
“I have never been used by India. Wherever I go, I tell people about the Indian philosophy of ahimsa (non-violence), karuna (compassion) and religious harmony,” the Tibetan leader told the India Times, following an angry reaction to his visit by Beijing.
China lashed out on Wednesday claiming India’s decision to host the Dalai Lama on a contested stretch of land on the India-China border would cause serious damage to relations between the two countries.
Arunchal Pradesh is an eastern Himalayan region administered by New Delhi, but still claimed by China as “southern Tibet”.
China has long seen the Dalai Lama as the leader of “Tibetan independence”, but the spiritual leader is preaching a more muted message.
“We are not seeking independence. We want China to give us meaningful autonomy. We want to remain with the People’s Republic of China,” he said while on a visit to Tawang, a highly disputed area, home to many Tibetan Buddhists.
He pointed out the benefits to both China and Tibet if they work together:
“Tibet is materialistically backward but spiritually highly advanced. We want to develop materialistically by remaining with China and it should also feel the same way for mutual benefit.”
He also called for restraint and defended the Chinese people, whom he says have been misrepresented by a small group of politicians.
“Please do not say ‘angry Chinese’. There are many in China who love India.” – Dalai Lama
“It’s only some narrow-minded politicians who see India in a different way, just the way they see me as a demon. I am not a demon.”
He added, “China has the highest population of Tibetan Buddhists. Many Chinese intellectuals fully support our cause.”
The leader’s defence of the Chinese came a day before China lashed out at India via several state-run news outlets.
Global Times, ran a scathing editorial reminding India of China’s superior military might and warning them of the consequences if New Delhi “ruins the Sino-India ties”.
“With a GDP several times higher than that of India, military capabilities that can reach the Indian Ocean and having good relations with India’s peripheral nations, coupled with the fact India’s turbulent northern state borders China, if China engages in a geopolitical game with India, will Beijing lose to New Delhi?” the op-ed asked.
The editorial also suggested New Delhi “overestimates its leverage in the bilateral ties with China,” questioning if India can really afford the consequences if “the two countries turn into open rivals.”
While the Dalai Lama has visited the disputed region before, this visit is proving more contentious as he is accompanied by India’s Junior Home Minister Kiren Rijiju. China sees this as a “double affront”, according to state-owned newspaper China Daily.
Despite the ongoing dispute, the China-India border has largely remained peaceful recently, particularly since Beijing and New Delhi began border talks last year.
China Daily states, however, “If New Delhi chooses to play dirty…Beijing should not hesitate to answer blows with blows”.