Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Introspection on The Dalai Lama's 2009 Tawang Visit

PM Manmohan Singh's response to China on Dalai Lama's
visit: Only India will decide Hu and Wen can visit TAWANG..!
The Economic Times' Cartoon. By Salam
By Tenzin Lekshay

In 2003, India became jubilant when China agreed to not just remain mum over Sikkim but also went ahead in removing Sikkim as an 'independent nation' from their official website of the Chinese Foreign Ministry. The gesture, which Prime Minister Atal Vajpayee after returning from China justified by saying that he extracted concessions from Beijing on Sikkim without offering anything new on Tibet in exchange.

Even after more than 60 years of establishing diplomatic relationship, India and China faces unprecedented challenges on its Himalayan borders. There has been a contest on the recognition of the Line of Actual Control and considers whole stretch of Himalayan border as a disputed zone. Analysts say that China wants to keep the status quo over border issues, which would help in maintaining China's leverage over India in their chase for power politics. Therefore, it is evident to find ever increasing transgressions along the borders.

As for the Arunachal issue, particularly Tawang was earlier believed to be a place, which was not contested by China during its formative years. As we are aware that in Sino-Indian war of 1962, Chinese troops came all the way to Assam and Pandit Nehru broadcasted to the nation that his heart went out to the people of Assam. Soon after, China unilaterally ceased fire and retreated to their station. If Tawang was considered a part of China, China could have taken it by then, which they did not. Over the years, after Sikkim issue submerged, China changes their play field and rigorously claim Tawang as a part of China. They recognized not just Tawang, but the whole of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of Southern Tibet. This makes Arunachal Pradesh become a new conflict zone between India and China. Now Indian eastern sector is as vulnerable as any other borders facing China on the other side of the Himalaya.

In 2006, a week before Chinese President Hu Jintao visited India, Sun Yuxi, China's envoy based in New Delhi stirred a controversial remark by claiming Arunachal Pradesh as part of China. He said “In our position, the whole of Arunachal Pradesh is Chinese territory and Tawang is only one place in it. We are claiming the whole of that (Arunachal Pradesh). That is our position.”1 Soon after, Indian parliament hold a debate on Sun Yuxi's remark whereby Indian foreign minister Pranab Mukherjee reiterated that "As far as Arunachal Pradesh is concerned, it is not a debatable issue at all...It is an integral part of India and is going to be so".2

In 2007, India and China joined to commemorate year of Friendship through tourism. Not just of tourism, China and India initiated joint military exercises with the code name "Hand in Hand 2007" held near Kunming, in Yunnan, China. The whole action plan of celebrating India-China Friendship year was officially declared by the Government of India.3 In October, Congress party President Sonia Gandhi visited China and her visit was regarded as a 'milestone' in strengthening Sino-Indian relationship. In order not to upset China, Cabinet Secretary K M Chandrashekhar sent a secret letter instructing all the Cabinet members to shun the Dalai Lama's felicitation program in Delhi that some Indian organizations arranged to honour His Holiness the Dalai Lama for being awarded the prestigious U.S. Congressional Gold Medal, the highest Civilian honour of the United States.4 On the one hand, both the countries emerged to boost their friendship. But on the other hand, China plays devils game by exploring the border problems into the limelight. Such is the case like Ganesh Koyu, a senior IAS officer from Arunachal Pradesh who was singularly denied visa to visit China from a member of 107 strong IAS officers' team on a management programme to China.

In 2008, a widespread uprising occurred all over Tibet, followed by a series of protests by the Tibetans and Tibet supporters during the Olympic Torch relay. The political turmoil inside Tibet was largely disturbing that His Holiness the Dalai Lama exposed China by reiterating that Tibet is virtually under cultural genocide. In Arunachal Pradesh, the then Chief Minister Dorjee Khandu not just repudiated the Chinese claim of Arunachal Pradesh but mentioned that "We only had a border with Tibet and not China and we have documents to support this. The claims are baseless,"5 Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited Arunachal Pradesh by skipping Tawang. In April, Dorjee Khandu and a delegation visited Dharamshala and invited His Holiness the Dalai Lama to inaugurate the new state-of-the-art Hospital in Tawang. His Holiness the Dalai Lama accepted to visit Tawang but the Chief Minister feared that the Ministry of External Affairs may not give the permission for the Dalai Lama to visit Tawang, considering the ongoing unrest inside Tibet.6

The Dalai Lama envoys visited China twice in 2008 which, the state news agency Xinhua reported that China hoped the Dalai Lama would use his influence to stop anti-Chinese protests that threaten to disrupt the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing. Even during the Olympic torch relay in Delhi, India was seen visibly helping the China with its three layered security personals to curtail the Tibetan protesters, which China acknowledged as a ‘success' . The March to Tibet, which was organized by the Tibetans NGOs were abruptly halted by the Indian Government on the border. In August, as invited by the Chinese government, Sonia Gandhi visited China to attend the Beijing Olympic Game.

His Holiness the Dalai Lama was scheduled to visit Arunachal Pradesh in November, but the visited was halted on October 24. There was no clear information about why the visit was postponed. Despite rumors of not getting the clearance from the Ministry of External Affairs, Dharamshala based MEA Liaison Officer expressed that “Our office has nothing to do with Dalai Lama's visit ,”. The Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama declined to give details about the change in the visit plan.7

As indicated, His Holiness the Dalai Lama's visit to Arunachal Pradesh was rescheduled on 2009 spring.  But the visit actually happened on November 2009. Though, the Chief Minister of Arunachal Pradesh and the Private Office of His Holiness the Dalai Lama consistently expressed the purpose of visit as apolitical, China objected and warned India of letting His Holiness visit Arunachal Pradesh.8 Despite China's continual protests, India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, laid down the official line and said ‘’Arunachal Pradesh is a part of India and His Holiness the Dalai Lama is free to go anywhere in India.’’ In October, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and the foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao also explicated in a similar tone, which ultimately gave a green signal for His Holiness to visit Arunachal Pradesh.9 In the meantime, the organizer of the Arunachal visit, T.G. Rimpoche awaited for New Delhi's approval.10 On 19 October, The Ministry of External Affairs issued a letter clearing the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Tawang.11

Within a year span, Indian government changed their decision over Tawang visit, as was declined earlier in 2008.  Apparently, the change came forth as a result of China's unfriendly gestures in the early months of 2009. As I observe, it was a very calculated move by the Chinese Government since 2007 by maintaining a friendship with India, which could ultimately light up their prestige with the launch of the Olympic game in Beijing. Beijing Olympic was a success and India played a benevolent role in its success. But after the Olympic, China played a spoilsports at the Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG).12 Not just that, China tried to block a $2.9 billion Asian Development Bank loan to India in which $60 million was meant to fund the flood-management program in Arunachal Pradesh. China did not even support India in becoming the United Nations Security Council member. With these multiple troubling factors along with China's rigorous claim over Tawang and the continual incursions or transgressions on the borders, India was forced to take a decision which contends China. But Dibyesh Anand says that the Dalai Lama'st visit should not be seen as a gesture of defiance toward China.13

Tawang visit has a deeper political dimension, dealing meanly on two different issues (The Dalai lama and Arunachal Pradesh) from two different perspectives (China and India). China accuses the Dalai Lama by calling him a separatist. But India revered His Holiness the Dalai Lama and regarded him an honoured Guest. China considered Arunachal Pradesh as a disputed area, which they claim as a part of China. But, India administers Arunachal Pradesh as one of its integrated sovereign states. During the visit, His Holiness the Dalai Lama defended India's stand by saying that "My stand that Tawang is an integral part of India has not changed,''.14 Even Dorjee Khandu stated that "From centuries, Tibet and we share the same border. We have no border issues with China. China's claim on Arunachal is all bogus,"15 But the most fascinating thing about China's claim over Tawang is that China routinely vows to fight against His Holiness the Dalai Lama, but declares those regions which are connected to the Dalai Lama as their territories. Such is the case like condemning the Dalai Lama but using the Potala Palace of His Holiness the Dalai Lama as their money minting machine, which is a very contradictory and an illogical behavior.

The debate on whether India is using Tibet card is very much in the lips of all the Indian political pundits. According to Dr. Harsh Pant, the visit of His Holiness the Dalai Lama in Tawang is "tit-for-tat strategy". He said that New Delhi has no bargaining leverage with China except the Dalai Lama and he is the last thing they can use against China. Tawang visit is a very explicit message which was done in response to what China has been doing on the border.16

His Holiness the Dalai Lama visited Tawang five times and the last visit was in 2009, which happened exactly fifty years after his escape into India via Tawang in 1959.




  1. A very enlightening piece !! After the introspection of the article, what i have observe is, why is India always at the back seat when these two nation play a "tit-for-tat strategy". I think, India has a leverage to play Tibet card to the optimum level.

  2. India did not recognize Tibet as Tibet Autonomous Region(TAR) until Vajpayee visit since China christened Tibet as TAR in 1965. By recognizing Tibet as TAR Vajpayee has made China more secure in Tibet.