US irks China over Tibet even as India toes a cautious line

A US senate resolution urged China to respect Tibetans’ right to choose the next Dalai Lama, drawing a strong reaction from Beijing for interfering in China’s “internal matters.”

Photo courtesy: PTI
Photo courtesy: PTI

Dhairya Maheshwari

Even Prime Minister Narendra Modi wrapped up a historic two-day informal summit with China’s President Xi Jinping on Saturday, the United States raised a strong objection to Beijing’s invalid interference in the religious matters of Tibetan Buddhists.

The US Senate on Thursday unanimously passed a resolution endorsing the right of the Tibetan community to choose the successor to the current, the fourteenth, Dalai Lama. “Any attempt by the Government of the People's Republic of China to identify or install its own candidate as a Tibetan Buddhist religious leader, including a future 15th Dalai Lama, is invalid interference in the right to religious freedom of Tibetan Buddhists,” the US government resolution stated.

The clearing of the resolution was followed by a stern statement by the US State Department demanding the immediate release of Panchen Lama, who was allegedly abducted by Chinese authorities at the age of six, twenty-three years ago. The Chinese government, on the other hand, has reportedly identified another successor to the 82-year-old monk, raising the hackles among Tibetans world over.

Beijing objected to US’ comments on Tibet, with the foreign ministry asking Washington to desist from interfering in China’s “internal matters.”

"The resolution reflects that some people in the United States have always been inexplicably ignorant and arrogant," Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said on Friday.

The statements from the US assume significance as they come at a time when India, a close ally of the Donald Trump administration, has been viewed as pulling out all stops to mend its relations with China, including playing down the links between the Centre and the Tibetan government-in-exile.

As reported by The Indian Express on March 2, foreign secretary Vijay Gokhale had sent out a note on February 22 to cabinet secretary PK Sinha. The communication urged the “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” to avoid participating in events organised by the Tibetan government-in-exile in the months of March and April to commemorate 60th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight to India.

“The proposed period will be a very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China. Participation by senior leaders or government functionaries, either from the Central Government or State Governments, is not desirable, and should be discouraged,” the note reportedly read.

The joint statement released by PM Modi and President Xi after the conclusion of the Wuhan Summit on Saturday reflected the approach, wherein both sides called for “respecting each other's sensitivities, concerns and aspirations.”

The Chinese leadership calls the Dalai Lama a “dangerous separatist,” even though the Buddhist leader has maintained that Tibet would stay with China if Beijing could assure that Tibetans “religious and ethnic autonomy is protected.”

“The US, India and most of the countries identify Tibet as part of China. What we have been demanding is more religious autonomy. But even that doesn’t seem to be acceptable to the Chinese government,” a spokesperson for the Tibetan government-in-exile, headquartered in Dharamshala, told National Herald.

The Tibetan official allayed concerns that there is a marked shift in current Indian government’s policy towards the Tibetan community in the wake of the surfacing of the foreign secretary’s note, saying that Centre was siding with caution in the lead-up to Modi’s meeting with Xi.

“We understand such things. But there has been no official change in the stand of the Indian government. They support us in our demand for more religious autonomy,” the spokesperson said.

India is home to over a lakh Tibetan refugees, most of them concentrated in the southern state of Karnataka.

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Published: 28 Apr 2018, 5:31 PM