GAUHATI: The Dalai Lama consecrated a Buddhist monastery on Thursday in India’s remote northeast, amid Chinese warnings that the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s visit to a disputed border region would damage bilateral relations with India.
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Nearly 10,000 people, some of them from neighbouring Bhutan, greeted the Dalai Lama at the Thubchok Gatsel Ling Monastery in Tawang district in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Indian official Jemba Tshering said.
The visit to Arunachal Pradesh, which China also claims as its territory, has raised tensions between the nuclear-armed Asian neighbours. China’s Foreign Ministry has said the visit “severely harms China’s interests and the China-India relationship,” while India has cautioned Beijing to stay out of its internal affairs.
China considers the 81-year-old monk, who fled to India in 1959 amid an uprising against Chinese rule in Tibet, a separatist seeking Tibet’s independence. The Dalai Lama says he merely advocates substantial autonomy and protection of the region’s native Buddhist culture.
The 81-year-old monk reiterated Wednesday that he as well as his people were not seeking Tibet’s independence, but are struggling to secure “meaningful autonomy” for the region from China.
“Firstly, we are not seeking independence. We are very much willing to remain within China,” The Telegraph newspaper quoted him as saying. “At the same time the Chinese government must give us meaningful self-rule, autonomy and must take full care of the environment.”
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying on Wednesday rejected arguments that the trip was solely religious in nature, and said China would lodge a formal protest with New Delhi.
The top elected official of the state of Arunachal Pradesh, Pema Khandu, accompanied the Dalai Lama as he addressed young monks on Wednesday. Khandu said China had no business telling India what to do and what not to do, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
India considers Tibet an integral part of China while rejecting Beijing’s claims over about 90,000 square kilometres in Arunachal Pradesh. India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometres (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau.
The visit is the Dalai Lama’s seventh to Arunachal Pradesh and his first since 2009. China has criticised previous visits, but they did not spark any major rift between the two countries. China said on Thursday that it has lodged an official protest with India over the visit of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to contested territory along the two countries’ border.
The Dalai Lama travelled to Arunachal Pradesh, parts of which Beijing claims as South Tibet, earlier this week for teachings at local monasteries.
“Inviting and approving the visit of the Dalai Lama to disputed areas between China and India has damaged our interests and China-India relations,” foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular press briefing.
Beijing claims that the religious leader is bent on splitting Tibet from China and has previously condemned the planned visit.
“We oppose the visit by the Dalai Lama to relevant areas and opposes the attempt by relevant countries to arrange a platform for the Dalai Lama to hold anti-China and separatist activities,” Hua said, adding that China had “launched representations” over the visit with the Indian ambassador to China and with the country’s foreign ministry.
The Dalai Lama fled to India after a failed uprising in 1959 but is still deeply revered by many Tibetans.
Beijing says its troops “peacefully liberated” Tibet in 1951 and accuses the Nobel Peace laureate of seeking Tibetan independence through “spiritual terrorism”.
He says he merely wants greater autonomy for his homeland, where many accuse the central government of religious repression and eroding Tibetan culture.