The Dalai Lama, Tibet’s spiritual leader, began a month-long visit to Ladakh on Friday, saying border disputes between India and China should be resolved through “talks and peaceful means,” as military action is a “outdated” option.
The Dalai Lama’s visit to Ladakh is likely to enrage China because it coincides with a military standoff between Indian and Chinese troops at several points in eastern Ladakh.
In addition, the 16th round of military talks between India and China on the lingering border standoff in eastern Ladakh will take place on July 17 on the Indian side of the region’s Line of Actual Control (LAC), according to PTI.
THE INDIA-DALAI LAMA-CHINA FRICTION
The visit of the Dalai Lama to Ladakh, also known as “Little Tibet,” is likely to be met with opposition from China, which frequently labels the spiritual leader as a separatist.
When Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted on July 7 that he had called His Holiness the Dalai Lama to wish him a happy 87th birthday, China responded by saying India needed to fully understand the “separatist nature” of the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader and stop “interfering” in China’s internal affairs.
India, for its part, dismissed China’s criticism, claiming that treating the Dalai Lama as an honoured guest is a consistent policy.
As the Dalai Lama began his Ladakh tour on July 14, he stated in Jammu that more and more Chinese people are realising that he is not seeking “independence,” but rather meaningful autonomy and the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture.
“Some Chinese hardliners regard me as a separatist and a reactionary, and they constantly criticise me.” However, more Chinese are realising that the Dalai Lama is not seeking independence, but rather wishes China to grant meaningful autonomy to Tibet and ensure the preservation of Tibetan Buddhist culture, according to the spiritual leader.
LAC STANDOFF: WHERE DOES INDIA AND CHINA STAND NOW?
The Ladakh border standoff between Indian and Chinese armies erupted on May 5, 2020, after a violent clash in the Pangong lake areas. Both sides gradually increased their deployment by bringing in tens of thousands of soldiers and heavy weaponry.
Following a series of military and diplomatic talks, the two sides completed the disengagement process on the north and south banks of Pangong Lake, as well as in the Gogra area, last year. Currently, each side has 50,000 to 60,000 troops along the LAC in the sensitive mountainous sector.
The Indian side is expected to press for troop disengagement as soon as possible in all remaining points of contention, as well as resolution of issues in Depsang Bulge and Demchok, during the new round of talks.
The situation in eastern Ladakh was discussed extensively during last week’s talks in Bali between External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar and his Chinese counterpart Wang Yi. During a one-hour meeting on the sidelines of a G20 summit, Jaishankar conveyed to Wang the importance of resolving all outstanding issues in eastern Ladakh as soon as possible.
On July 9, reports surfaced of a Chinese Air Force aircraft flying very close to a friction point on the LAC in the eastern Ladakh sector in the last week of June, to which the Indian Air Force quickly responded in accordance with standard operating procedures.
According to reports, the incident occurred while the Chinese side was conducting exercises involving fighter jets and air defence weaponry, including the S-400 air defence system, in the areas bordering the Eastern Ladakh sector.
According to EAM Jaishankar, the current situation at the LAC has arisen due to China’s disregard for written agreements; the US has called it one of the “worst” standoff situations.