The Dalai Lama, Tibet's spiritual leader in exile has been in India for the last 60 years, his very existence remaining an irritant to China which has often publicly denounced him as an Enemy. Yet, in this rare conversation for her book, 'Defining India', the Dalai Lama told Sonia Singh, that he had reached out to China for a meeting with President Xi during his visit to Delhi in 2014...and surprisingly China had agreed. India however intervened and the meeting didn't happen. Here's an excerpt from the book.
Prime ministers will change but it's clear that India has always walked a very careful tightrope with China on the Tibet question. 'Prime Minister Modi has looked at redefining India's relationship with China and you have enjoyed greater visibility under his government with your visit to Arunachal Pradesh and the Tawang monastery. Yet, "thank you" celebrations to mark your sixty years in India had to be shifted from Delhi to Dharamshala to avoid angering the Chinese. How has dealing with Prime Minister Modi been?' I ask.
'Awkward,' says the Dalai Lama wryly, then adding, 'And it's only natural, understandable. The China-India relationship is very important. When the Doklam problem happened [in 2017, China tried to build a road in Doklam, a stretch in Bhutan bordering India and China, to which India and Bhutan objected, resulting in a standoff], the media asked me about my beliefs and I told them that these were minor; neither India nor China want to destroy one another-we have to live side by side. The ultimate goal should be "Hindi-Chini bhai-bhai!" That is the only realistic way.
'So, naturally Prime Minister Modi is concerned about good relations with China. I actually know him very well. When he was the chief minister of Gujarat, the state found an ancient Buddhist monastery and as chief minister, Mr Modi invited me to a function for this. Besides the official meeting, he also came to see me at my hotel. We have very good relations. He is quite an active Indian prime minister, continuously visiting many countries. That, I admire at his age.'
And it is then as we talk of the prime minister that the Dalai Lama drops his political bombshell. 'In 2014, when Chinese President Xi Jinping visited Delhi for talks with Prime Minister Modi, I requested a meeting with him. President Xi Jinping agreed, but the Indian government was cautious about the meeting, so it didn't happen.'
Just like the historic moment between the heads of North Korea and South Korea in 2018, this could have been a meeting that had the promise to change the course of China-Tibet relations, especially as there have been reports that there are informal contacts between both sides. President Xi is said to have a close knowledge of Buddhism through his father who headed the Communist Party's religious work in 1980. During his stint as a young provincial officer as well in 1982, Xi Jinping was posted in Zhengding, China where he backed a Buddhist monk's efforts to rebuild the famous Linji Temple and has asked workers to study the partnership between party and religion. In 2014, in a speech in Delhi, the Dalai Lama had said that President Xi was the first Chinese leader to publicly say that Buddhism had a role to play in the preservation of Chinese culture.
However, a meeting between the Dalai Lama and President Xi could have also been used as a propaganda tool by the Chinese to outwit both India and the Dalai Lama, who is seen by some foreign policy strategists as India's trump card against the Chinese. It's not surprising then that the request for the meeting must have sent the ministry of external affairs into a spin leading to a denial of the request.
Excerpted with permission of Penguin India from 'Defining India: Through Their Eyes' by Sonia Singh. Order your copy here.
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