New Delhi must resist using Dalai Lama card amid border spat
Published: Jul 09, 2017 09:58 PM

Amid a simmering face-off between Chinese and Indian troops in the Sikkim section of the Sino-Indian border, the "Tibetan national flag," a pro-independence symbol adopted by the Tibetan government-in-exile, was unfurled on the shores of Bangong Lake, known as Pangong Lake in India, in Ladakh, according to Indian media outlet The Wire. The lake sits astride India and China, with the Line of Actual Control passing through it. It's the first time the Tibetan exile administration in northern India has flown the flag at this location.

The timing of the flag-hoisting on Indian territory has sparked wide speculation over whether the Indian authorities instigated the political activity of Tibetan separatists to exert pressure on China. Although the involvement of New Delhi remains unclear, we hope they did not send any signal of approval.

The Tibetan government-in-exile is based in the Indian town of Dharamsala. New Delhi publicly promises not to allow any anti-China political activities by Tibetan exiles on Indian territory. But it has long used the Tibet question as a diplomatic card in dealing with Beijing.

When the Indian government attaches great importance to its relationship with China, it keeps a tight grip on anti-China political activities on its soil. However, when it is dissatisfied or has conflicts with Beijing, the Tibet card is played up. But India may overestimate the influence of Tibetan exiles.

With the rise of China and as Tibet becomes better off, Tibetan independence runs counter to the will of Tibetans. The space for Tibetan separatists has been largely squeezed as more Western countries have snubbed the Dalai Lama. The Tibet card is gradually losing its value.

If New Delhi is pulling the strings of the Tibetan exiles' political act of flag-hoisting, it will only have burned itself. Both border issues and the Tibet question concern China's core interests and China won't yield to provocations.

Given the ongoing border spat, the Indian government should act prudently to avoid escalating tensions. It has the responsibility to control Tibetan exiles and their anti-China activities on Indian soil. 

New Delhi should think more about how to de-escalate the border face-off at this moment. China is India's biggest trading partner. For India, with a vast population living in poverty, peace and opportunities of development are of vital importance. New Delhi cannot afford to mess up the China-India bilateral relationship.


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