Behind the facade of a ‘successful’ informal summit, India and China may be passing through the worst phase in bilateral ties since the Doklam standoff. While a lot of it has to do with Beijing’s unequivocal denunciation of India’s reorganisation of Jammu and Kashmir (J&K), the Dalai Lama or Tibet issue has added another layer of complexity to the troubled relations.
China officially reminded India yet again this month that any interaction which senior Indian leaders or government functionaries might have with the Dalai Lama was going to be detrimental to the bilateral relationship, ToI has learnt. This was conveyed to Indian officials days before the November 8-9 Rising Himachal global investors summit in Dharamshala, the seat of Tibetan government-in-exile, which was addressed by PM Narendra Modi.
China was apparently spooked by the possibility of Indian leaders and officials from both central and state governments engaging the spiritual leader, who met some of the delegates, in public. India responded by reiterating that Dalai Lama was not allowed to carry out any political activity and that the summit too was a non-political event. That the US ambassador at large for religious freedom Sam Brownback had met the Dalai Lama in Dharamshala just a week earlier also seemed to be playing on Chinese minds.
The issue was resolved in the end to the satisfaction of both countries allowing them to work for the bilateral meeting which Modi had with President Xi Jinping in Brasilia last week. This was a particularly sensitive time though as the issue of Dalai Lama reincarnation has dominated headlines internationally in the past few weeks. The 14th Dalai Lama is now 84-year-old and the US is actively working to ensure Beijing is not allowed to handpick his successor. It has even called for the UN to intervene in the succession issue.
It was foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale’s letter early last year calling for government functionaries to avoid sharing public space with Tibetans that helped pave the way for the first informal summit in Wuhan. While the first summit prevented any LAC flare up, the Chennai Connect, or the second edition of the informal summit, is not yet visible on the ground. It has been widely reported in the past few weeks that India has delayed visas to Chinese dignitaries and the 2 countries have even failed to finalise dates for boundary talks between the special representatives, which should have been the natural and early outcome of the summit. Official sources said though that a 6-member Chinese defence delegation will be visiting India on Tuesday for a military exchange. The delegation is headed by Lieutenant General Zhou Aimin, Vice President of the PLA National Defense University.
China strongly opposes any contact between Dalai Lama and leaders and officials of India or any other country. The government has so far shown no inclination to wade into the Dalai Lama succession controversy, or play the so-called Tibet card, even though Dalai Lama has suggested that his successor could come from his followers in India. China wants the next Dalai Lama to be chosen through the “traditional’’ process, namely drawing of lots from a golden urn and recognition of the central government. And while it doesn’t want India to publicly endorse its choice of the spiritual leader, it expects India to not do anything to undermine it either.