Implicitly acknowledging the damage that media reports were causing to the bilateral relationship, India and China have agreed to use official mechanisms to discuss outstanding issues, than seeking publicly to air their differences over matters like the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh
“We have agreed that whatever outstanding issues there may be between us – and there is the complex boundary question which cannot be wished away – there are established government channels to exchange views on all these issues,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Sunday. “Therefore, one doesn’t have to go to the media to accentuate or exaggerate the amount of differences that prevail.”
He was providing reporters a first-hand account of his interactions on Saturday with China’s Premier Wen Jiabao.
The Prime Minister said that although the Dalai Lama’s proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh was not raised by the Chinese side in the delegation-level talks on Saturday morning, he himself brought the issue up during the gala dinner thrown by the Thai Prime Minister on Saturday night for all Asean and East Asia Summit country leaders.
Dr. Singh, who was seated next to Mr. Wen at the banquet, said the Dalai Lama’s travel plans arose in the general context of a discussion about the Tibetan spiritual leader. “I told him, you have raised this issue [of the visit]. He is an honoured guest, a religious figure but we do not allow him to indulge in political activities.”
Asked whether there was any rethinking on the question of the Arunachal visit, the Prime Minister said: “I am not aware of the plans of the Dalai Lama”. And did the Chinese side accept India’s stand? “I have explained this position to the Chinese leadership,” he replied, saying he cited the “resolute action” taken by his government at the time of Olympics, when there were reports that some Tibetan refugees might disrupt the process, as proof of the fact that India did not allow the Tibetan community to indulge in political activities.
The Prime Minister sidestepped a direct question on whether the planned visit would complicate India’s relations with China and make the resolution of the boundary question more difficult. Though two of his answers – on border incursions and Chinese river projects – were read directly from briefing notes, indicating the care his advisers took to make sure he remained on message, none of his responses on the travel plans of the Tibetan spiritual leader used the stock phrase ‘The Dalai Lama is free to travel anywhere in India’ officials have used the past few weeks.
On the incursions issue, Dr. Singh said Premier Wen and he reaffirmed the need to “maintain peace and tranquillity on the border pending a resolution of the boundary question.” The Prime Minister said other irritants – like Chinese projects in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir and China’s refusal to grant Kashmiri domiciled Indians proper travel visas – did not specifically come up. With the Chinese Foreign Minister due to visit India in two days time, there would be ample scope for discussion on these and all other issues, he said.
Confirming that he raised India’s concerns about Chinese transborder river projects, the Prime Minister said Mr. Wen proposed that the existing Expert Level Mechanism could discuss these issues.