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Updated: December 28, 2009 13:24 IST

Manmohan to seek end to verbal sparring with China

Siddharth Varadarajan
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his arrival at Hua Hin airport for the 15th ASEAN summit in Cha Am, Southern Thailand on Oct. 23, 2009. Photo: PTI
PTI Prime Minister Manmohan Singh during his arrival at Hua Hin airport for the 15th ASEAN summit in Cha Am, Southern Thailand on Oct. 23, 2009. Photo: PTI

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao will meet here on the sidelines of the 15th Asean summit on Saturday morning in an attempt to put an end to the infelicitous and even sharp exchange of words between the two sides in recent weeks.

Beginning with exaggerated Indian media reports of an alleged increase in Chinese incursions along the undemarcated Line of Actual Control, the rhetoric has now taken on a life of its own with government-run newspapers in Beijing accusing India of “hegemony,” Indian analysts making dire predictions of conflict, and senior Chinese officials making repeated public demarches about Arunachal Pradesh as part of their claim that the Indian state is actually a part of Tibet.

Although the immediate focus of China’s assertive pronouncements and actions is apparently Arunachal and also Jammu and Kashmir – the Chinese embassy in Delhi recently began issuing visas to the state’s residents on a separate sheet of paper rather than stamping their Indian passports – the war of words has cast a shadow over not just the ongoing boundary negotiations but also the positive long-term trend in bilateral relations between the two countries.

Indian officials say the Prime Minister is keen to continue the positive momentum and work with China to give greater depth to the ‘strategic and economic partnership’ and that he hopes Premier Wen will agree that the two countries need to find ways of preventing differences over the boundary from spilling into other areas.

At the heart of the recent deterioration in optics is the proposed visit to Arunachal Pradesh by the Dalai Lama, spiritual leader of the Tibetan Buddhists and a man Beijing reviles as a separatist bent on pushing for the independence of the Autonomous Region.

The Indian side has said repeatedly and publicly that the Dalai Lama is a guest and is free to visit any part of the country he wishes.

Though there is no indication that New Delhi will rethink its position, senior officials say the intention is not to score points over China or to use the visit in order to underline the status of Arunachal Pradesh as an integral part of India.

Indeed, one official told The Hindu that the wider politics of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Tawang were complicated. China, after all, cites the monastic connection between Tawang and Tibet as the basis for its claim to the town and state, a connection that would be reinforced by the Dalai Lama’s coming visit. During his visit to the monastery there in 2003, the Dalai Lama had in fact said he believed Tawang was a part of Tibet. Since then, the Tibetan spiritual leader has said he accepts the McMahon line, which forms the basis for the Indian demarcation of the Sino-Indian border, much to the consternation of Beijing. Some officials believe the Chinese fear is that the Dalai Lama may use the occasion of his visit to Tawang to tell mediapersons the district is an integral part of India.

People’s Daily on Friday published a commentary, ‘Dalai Lama goes further down traitorous road’ in which it accused the “Dalai Lama clique” of “[cooperating] closely with India whenever Sino-Indian border negotiations are being held or the Indian side is maliciously speculating over a border dispute.”

As matters stand, it is not clear when the Dalai Lama will make the journey or whether he has applied for and received an inner line permit that all foreigners in India need to visit Arunachal Pradesh. His advisers initially said the Tibetan spiritual leader would travel to the State on November 8 but now maintain the dates have not yet been finalised.

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