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File photo of Dalai Lama (Reuters)
File photo of Dalai Lama (Reuters)

India-China standoff: India resets 'One China' position?

Amid border face-off with China that has only de-escalated today, several Indian officials have been wishing Dalai Lama on his 85th birthday

NEW DELHI: India on Monday hinted at a possible rethink of its “One China" policy with several Indian officials wishing the Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on turning 85. This came amid signs of a possible start to lowering of tensions that had been simmering for two months along the border between the two countries with the people familiar with the development saying that India and China had begun the slow process of pulling out troops from the border.

Those who wished the Tibetan spiritual leader included Pema Khandu, chief minister of Arunachal Pradesh and the Lieutentant Governor of Ladakh R.K. Mathur besides Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Kiren Rijiju and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s National General Secretary Ram Madhav. While the greetings posted by all four on Twitter were seen as important, those posted by Khandu and Mathur were seen as significant given that both represented areas of India that China has intruded into or claims as part of its territory, a person familiar with the development said.

China claims 90,000 sq. km of Indian territory in Arunachal Pradesh and occupies around 38,000 sq. km in Ladakh which India claims as its territory. Also, under the China—Pakistan “boundary agreement signed in March 1963, Pakistan illegally ceded 5,180 sq. km of Indian territory in PoK (Pakistan-occupied Kashmir) to China," according to Indian parliament records. The current tensions are due to China seeking to change its claims and make further inroads into Indian territory in Ladakh.

A second person familiar in the know of the matter said that it is customary for Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Ram Nath Kovind to extend birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama for his birthday every year though it is not made public given China’s sensitivities on the matter. “I have no doubt that this year too, the greetings would have been extended by the president and prime minister," the second person said.

Former foreign secretary Kanwal Sibal agreed that the Twitter posts from Chief Minister Khandu and Lieutenant General Mathur did send a message to China and hence was welcome under the current circumstances. But it did not make it clear whether New Delhi had taken a major decision to engage the Dalai Lama more at the official level, Sibal said. “New Delhi’s position may be not to complicate the situation" with negotiations ongoing between the two sides to defuse tensions that had mounted after China intruded into Indian territory at several points along the Line of Actual Control border. “Maybe India does not want to show its hand right now and is saving this option (ie clear indication of a review of the ‘One China’ policy) for a later time," Sibal said. Still, someone like Prime Minister Modi greeting a spiritual leader like Dalai Lama on his 85th birthday could be in no way misconstrued by anyone politically, Sibal said.

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