Tibet again causes friction between China and India, and it doesn’t bode well for ties

Tibet again causes friction between China and India, and it doesn’t bode well for ties

While Beijing has been busy trying to shore up support for its one-China policy, another headache has resurfaced in its troubled ties with New Delhi.

India’s defence ministry released photos last week confirming that the Dalai Lama had been flown in a military helicopter to a remote Himalayan village in the disputed border region of eastern Ladakh.

Beijing was already irked by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s phone call to the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader last month for his 87th birthday. In response, Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said India should fully understand the “anti-China and separatist nature” of the Dalai Lama and “stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China’s internal affairs”.

Most of the long, unmarked border between China and India is located in Tibet, and the region has long been a thorny bilateral issue – even after India officially recognised Tibet as part of China in 2003.

Beijing has often accused the Modi government of playing the Tibet card to woo its nationalist supporters in India, where the Dalai Lama and a Tibetan diaspora have been living in exile. It reacted with fury in 2017 when the Dalai Lama visited Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which China claims as southern Tibet, with Beijing saying New Delhi had done “serious damage” to bilateral ties.

As the Tibet issue again causes friction, it does not augur well for a complicated relationship that has been deeply strained since a deadly border clash in eastern Ladakh two years ago.

Beijing has voiced concerns about New Delhi’s strategic pivot towards Washington, with Foreign Minister Wang Yi calling on his Indian counterpart S. Jaishankar to help get bilateral ties back on track, a day after Modi’s phone call to the Dalai Lama.

Meanwhile, China’s plans to build a new highway linking Tibet and Xinjiang, near its disputed border areas with India, and a trans-Himalayan rail link between Tibet and Nepal have not been received well in New Delhi. Its decision to block an Indian proposal at the United Nations to sanction the commander of a Pakistan-based militant group further rattled New Delhi, which said Beijing had “double standards” on combating terrorism.

Speaking on Friday, Jaishankar said the border stand-off “remained a big problem” and that India would have to prepare for “very unsettling changes” with China on its way to becoming a superpower.

That may help to explain India’s snub when asked to reaffirm its one-China policy after US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Taiwan visit that enraged Beijing. Asked about the request on Friday, Indian foreign ministry spokesman Arindam Bagchi said: “India’s relevant policies are well known and consistent. They do not require reiteration.” (South China Morning Post)

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