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New Delhi: India seems to be taking its battle to China after flexing its muscles against Pakistan. Soon after permitting a rare visit by US Ambassador to India, Richard Verma, to Arunachal Pradesh—claimed by both India and China—the Modi government has now given the green signal for a visit to the north-eastern state by the Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, who has been living in exile in India since 1959 after fleeing Tibet after a failed uprising against Chinese rule.

The Dalai Lama’s visit is expected to take place in March 2017, and the proposed trip has riled China.

China on Friday objected to Dalai Lama’s scheduled visit to Arunachal Pradesh, saying the invitation to the Tibetan spiritual leader “will only damage peace and stability of the border areas" as well as its ties with India.

A similar visit by the Tibetan spiritual leader in 2009 had drawn protests from China. India at that time had politely but firmly told Beijing that the “Dalai Lama is an honoured guest" and a “is a religious leader" and that India doesn’t “allow him to engage in political activities".

Also Read: Dalai Lama’s Arunachal visit will damage ties with India, says China

This time too, India’s stance has not been very different.

“You are all aware that His Holiness the Dalai Lama is a revered spiritual figure and an honoured guest of India. He is absolutely free to travel to any part of the country," Indian foreign ministry spokesman Vikas Swarup told a press conference on Thursday. “It is a fact that he has a sizeable following among the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh who like to seek his blessings. He has visited the state in the past as well as we see nothing unusual if he visits again," Swarup said.

Tawang in Arunachal Pradesh was the so-called point of entry for the Dalai Lama into India when he fled Tibet in 1959.

China lays claim to 90,000 sq.km of land or most of Arunachal Pradesh, which India says is an integral part of its territory. According to China, Arunachal Pradesh is part of what it calls South Tibet. According to news reports, China especially wants to hold on to a centuries-old monastery in the region that is seen as a leading centre of Tibetan Buddhism in India.

India also says that China occupies 38,000 sq.km (15,000 sq miles) of territory in Aksai Chin plateau in the western Himalayas.

Disagreement between India and China over parts of their 3,500-km (2,175-mile) border led to a brief war in 1962. Since then, the two countries have moved to manage the dispute, but many rounds of talks have not yielded much progress.

According to Srikanth Kondapalli, a professor of Chinese Studies at New Delhi-based Jawaharlal Nehru University, “India is not worried about upsetting China here."

“And there is a context to it," Kondapalli said, pointing to several actions of China in the recent past that have upset India.

One is China’s continuous shielding of Pakistan and Pakistan-backed terrorism against India.

This year, China has twice blocked India’s bid to get Pakistan-based terrorist group Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar declared as a UN-designated terrorist. The first instance was in April and the second earlier this month. India holds Azhar responsible for many terrorist acts in India including the 13 December 2001 attack on India’s Parliament as well the 2 January 2016 attack on the Pathankot airbase. On the record, Beijing says it stands against all forms of terrorism, but it has refused to end its “technical hold" on the ban on Azhar.

Again, ahead of the Brazil-Russia-India-China-South Africa or Brics meeting in Goa on 15-16 October, vice-foreign minister Li Baodong told reporters in Beijing that no country should have double standards on terrorism or use it for political gains. With Modi himself taking the lead seeking to isolate Pakistan on the issue of anti-India terrorism following the 18 September attack on an Indian army garrison in Kashmir, Li’s statement suggested that China would not back India’s stance against that of its all weather friend Pakistan. And when Modi described Pakistan as the “mothership of terrorism" at the Brics meet, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying asked the world community to acknowledge Pakistan’s “great sacrifices" in fighting terrorism.

China’s position vis-a-vis India’s application to the exclusive Nuclear Suppliers’ Group (NSG) that sets the rules for global nuclear commerce too has not been accommodative. Beijing has pointed out that India is not a signatory to the nuclear non-proliferation treaty and cannot be admitted into the NSG club. India has said its application seeking admission to the NSG is tied to its need for clean energy and climate change commitments.

According to Kondapalli, India has been trying to engage China on all these issues—and at the highest political levels—but Beijing seemed unmoved.

“So the Dalai Lama visit could be one way of India expressing its displeasure," he said.

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