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China objects to Dalai meet, calls off boundary talks

November 30, 2011

http://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/india/China-objects-to-Dalai-meet-calls-off-boundary-talks/articleshow/10886307.cms

Indrani Bagchi, TNN | Nov 27, 2011

NEW DELHI: China demanded that India cancel a Buddhist conference in Delhi which the Dalai Lama was expected to address. The conference coincided with the boundary talks between Dai Bingguo and Shivshankar Menon also to be held here. India refused. China cancelled the talks.

Last week, China sent a message to India asking that the government prevent the Dalai Lama from speaking at the Buddhist conference in the national Capital. A surprised government said the Dalai Lama was a spiritual leader and free to speak on spiritual matters, refusing to agree to China's request.

The Chinese side upped the ante, demanding the Indian government cancel the conference. India refused to comply, saying this was a spiritual conference and the freedom was an essential part of New Delhi. The Indian side even promised full security to the Chinese delegates. Beijing refused and called off the talks. Although later Chinese officials said they wanted to hold the talks "very soon", India has reacted coolly. The ball, said sources, is in Beijing's court.

For a Chinese communist leadership in the throes of a leadership transition, the optics of Dai Bingguo breathing the same air as Dalai Lama may be difficult to sell at home. Sources said, this could have been the reason behind China calling off the talks.

The Chinese approach appeared to have hardened after the recent East Asia summit in Bali, where they showed their disapproval of India's presence in the South China Sea. In recent months, China has successfully prevented the Dalai Lama from being present for an event in South Africa, by pressuring the South African government.

The Buddhist conference, being organized by the Ashoka Mission, will be held from November 27 to 30 to celebrate 2, 600 years of Buddha's enlightenment and will host scholars and thinkers from 32 countries. The conference plans all-faith meetings, a dhamma yatra etc. The conference is being held in India because of the nation's unique position as the birthplace of Buddhism.

Buddhism is also a new element of India's Look East policy, with Nalanda university and a Buddhist outreach, New Delhi has successfully integrated its soft power with the religion to engage countries in southeast Asia as well as China, Japan, Mongolia and Korea. If India acted against the conference at the last moment, it would be counterproductive, apart from inviting collective wrath that it could not withstand Chinese pressure.

While China has promised $1million for the Nalanda University, it also proposed a "Lumbini project" at Lumbini in Nepal, the birthplace of Buddha. Earlier this year, a Chinese organization believed to be close to the party elite, had promised a $3 billion investment in Lumbini (which would translate roughly to 10% of Nepal's GDP) with an airport, hotels, highways and a university.

While seemingly innocuous, India suspected that this could be used to promote China-friendly Buddhist leaders in all the three main schools of Buddhism - Mahayana, Hinayana and Tibetan Buddhism. Under Indian pressure, Nepal agreed to cut the Chinese links to the project. Sources here said, China wanted Lumbini to be the focal point for Buddhists in the world. At present, Buddhist travel to India to meet Dalai Lama and to visit Sarnath and Bodh Gaya. Besides, through a project like Lumbini, China may reckon it would be easier to "control" both religion and religionists.

While China is a communist state, its Buddhist traditions remain alive and well. Recent reports said Xi Jinping, who is scheduled to succeed Hu Jintao next year, was born of a Buddhist mother, close to the Dalai Lama, who was even given Buddhist funeral rites. Yet as the party boss next year, Xi has taken a harsh stance on Tibet, vowing to stamp out Tibetan "separatism".

The recent dissonance between India and China have spanned everything from oil exploration in South China Sea to boundary issues, post-retirement sinecures for diplomats and Chinese stapled visas for Kashmiris.

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