The Dalai Lama plans to visit a northeast Indian state that China claims as its territory in November, a trip that could again rile Beijing following its denunciations of his visit to Taiwan this month.
“He plans to be in Arunachal Pradesh in the second week of November,” Chhime Chhoekyapa, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader’s aide, told Reuters.
“He is going there for teaching. This has nothing to do with politics, there is nothing political about it.”
The visit is almost certain to draw protests from China, which claims Arunachal Pradesh as part of its territory, and could become yet another irritant in Beijing-New Delhi relations, dogged by a border dispute.
The travel plan was announced a week after the completion of his visit to Taiwan, a self-ruled island claimed by Beijing, which denounced the trip.
A visit to Arunachal Pradesh could now draw further attention to China’s treatment of Tibetan activists and the Dalai Lama’s calls for cultural and religious freedoms and autonomy.
China considers the Dalai Lama a “splittist” who seeks to separate nearly a quarter of the land mass of the People’s Republic of China.
FOLLOW-UP TO TAIWAN VISIT
The Dalai Lama, who fled Tibet in 1959 after a failed uprising against Chinese rule, denies the charge and says he seeks greater rights for Tibetans.
“The timing of his trip (to Arunachal Pradesh) is significant. It comes while the debate over his visit to Taiwan is still hot,” said Bhaskar Roy, a New Delhi-based China expert.
“Tibetans are as good at playing these games as the Chinese. They know such a visit will keep up the pressure on China.”
The trip has ramifications for India-China relations as well.
India and China fought a short war in 1962 and, despite burgeoning trade in recent years, mistrust remains. Both sides jostle for resources and influence as they seek a global role.
This year, the two countries have faced off at multi-lateral fora, including Chinese objections to a $60 million Asian Development Bank loan for a project in Arunachal Pradesh.
Indian media have repeatedly reported “incursions” by Chinese soldiers patrolling the 3,500-km (2,200-mile) border, disputed at various stretches.
In response, India has begun modernising its border roads and moved a squadron of strike aircraft close to the China border. Arunachal Governor J.J. Singh said in June up to 30,000 new troops would be deployed in the area.
“From India’s point of view the Dala Lama’s visit will restate Arunachal Pradesh as Indian territory,” said Roy. “For that reason, what we can expect is statements against the visit from the Chinese foreign office.”
The Dalai Lama fled Tibet through Arunachal Pradesh, which has a substantial Buddhist population.