Defying China, India to host Dalai Lama in Arunachal Pradesh
The Union government representatives will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits Arunachal Pradesh in April, officials said, despite a warning from China that it would damage bilateral ties.
India said the Tibetan spiritual leader will make a religious trip to Arunachal Pradesh next month, and as a secular democracy it would not stop him from travelling to any part of the country.
A trip by the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese regard as a dangerous separatist, would ratchet up tensions at a time when India is at odds with China on strategic and security issues amid Beijing's growing proximity with Pakistan.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi's administration is raising its public engagement with the Tibetan leader, a change from earlier governments' reluctance to anger Beijing by sharing a public platform with him.
"It's a behavioural change you are seeing. India is more assertive," Kiren Rijiju, Union minister of state for home affairs, said.
Rijiju, who is from Arunachal and is PM Modi's point man on Tibetan issues, said he would meet the Dalai Lama, who is visiting the Buddhist Tawang monastery after an eight-year interval.
"He is going there as a religious leader, there is no reason to stop him. His devotees are demanding he should come, what harm can he do? He is a lama." The Chinese foreign ministry said on Friday the Dalai Lama's trip would cause serious damage to India-China ties, and warned New Delhi not to provide him a platform for anti-China activities.
"The Dalai clique has for a long time carried out anti-China separatist activities and on the issue of the China-India border has a history of disgraceful performances," spokesman Geng Shuang told a daily news briefing.
Visits of the Dalai Lama are initiated months, if not years in advance, and approval for the April 4-13 trip predates recent disagreements between the neighbours.
But the decision to go ahead at a time of strained relations signals Modi's readiness to use diplomatic tools at a time when China's economic and political clout across South Asia is growing. China is helping to fund a new trade corridor across Pakistan and has also invested in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, raising fears of strategic encirclement.
Last month, a Taiwanese parliamentary delegation visited Delhi, angering Beijing, which regards Taiwan as an integral part of China.
In December, President Pranab Mukherjee hosted the Dalai Lama at his official residence with other Nobel prize winners, the first public meeting with an Indian head of state in 60 years.