India to Dalai Lama: Stop upsetting China

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India's foreign minister has given the Dalai Lama, who heads the Tibetan government in exile in Dharamsala in northern India, a warning: Don't mess up our relationship with China. Here's Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee on Indian TV:

India will continue to offer [the Dalai Lama] all hospitality, but during his stay in India, they should not do any political activity, any action that can adversely affect relations between India and China".

Tibet expert Robert Barnett recently told FP that Delhi is increasingly distancing itself from the Tibetans in order to solidify its ties with Beijing.

FP: Will India find it harder to tolerate the Tibetan government in exile?

RB: India is clearly moving in the direction of distancing itself from the exiles. Some people think it's preparing for the death of the Dalai Lama, and then it will distance itself even more. There were indications of a sea change after the Dalai Lama received the Congressional Gold Medal in America last October. The Indians issued an order, presumably under pressure from China, that their cabinet ministers were not allowed to meet him or receive him upon his return. This was seen as very unusual. I don't want to suggest some major realignment, but the indications are very much that India is maintaining ambiguity but showing that it largely wants to engage with China. That said, it hasn't taken any irreversible steps yet in terms of the Tibetans.

Another question to my mind is, What happens to Dharamsala when the Dalai Lama dies? What's received little analysis in recent weeks is Beijing's long-term strategy of waiting out the Dalai Lama in order to control his succession. Traditionally, Tibetan Buddhism's No.2 figure, the Panchen Lama, helps determine the next Dalai Lama, believed to be a reincarnation of the former. But the Panchen Lama named by the Dalai Lama in 1995 was arrested by the Chinese and hasn't been seen since (he was 6 years old at the time of his arrest). China then named its own Panchen Lama, a teenager who just so happens to be a big fan of Chinese nationalism. How that succession issue shakes out will be of enormous importance, and how China handles it will determine to what extent the recent protests are a sign of things to come.


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