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China unnerved by Tibet event attended by Indian ministers, MPs

India is seeing the unusually worded letter from China, sent on 30 December by the political counsellor at its embassy, as an undiplomatic move

About seven days after a group of parliamentarians including Union MoS Rajeev Chandrasekhar attended a dinner reception hosted by the Parliament of Tibet-in-exile, the Chinese embassy in Delhi expressed “concern” over their participation and asked them to “refrain from providing support to the ‘Tibetan independence’ forces”. Under the umbrella of the All-Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet, six MPs from different parties had attended an event on 22 December at a hotel in Delhi.

The guests included Union MoS for Entrepreneurship, Skill Development, Electronics & Technology Rajeev Chandrasekhar, BJP’s Maneka Gandhi and KC Ramamurthy, INC MPs Jairam Ramesh and Manish Tewari, and BJD’s Sujeet Kumar. The Speaker of Tibetan Parliament-in-exile, Khenpo Sonam Tenphel, was present too.

India is seeing the unusually worded letter from China, sent on 30 December by the political counsellor at its embassy, as an undiplomatic move, as foreign diplomats writing to MPs in India in this manner did not happen in the recent past.

Reacting sharply to the letter, BJD’s Kumar said: “Who is the political counsellor at the embassy of China to write to an MP of India, the largest democracy? How dare you send letters to Indian MPs? If anything, you can raise your protest through official channels. I think the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) should take a stand.”

The letter has come almost four years after India had asked “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” to not attend the events organised by Tibetans in India, citing bilateral ties.

In the letter, Political Counsellor at the Embassy Zhou Yongsheng wrote: “I have noticed that you have attended an activity held by the so-called “All-Party Indian Parliamentary Forum for Tibet” and interacted with some members of the “so-called Tibetan Parliament in Exile”. I would like to express our concern on that.”

The counsellor wrote: “As is known to all, the so-called Tibetan Government-in-exile is an out-and-out separatist political group and an illegal organization completely in violation of China’s constitution and laws. It is not recognised by any country in the world. Tibet has been an inseparable part of China since ancient times, and Tibet related affairs are purely China’s internal affairs that allow no foreign interference.”

The letter stated that in a series of political documents, the Indian government had recognised that the Tibet Autonomous Region was a part of the territory of China and reiterated that it did not allow Tibetans to carry out anti-China political activities.

“China firmly opposes any anti-China separatist activities conducted by “Tibetan independence” forces in any capacity or name in any country and opposes any forms of contact by officials of any country with them,” the letter said.

Addressing the MPs, the political counsellor wrote: “You are a senior politician who knows the China-India relations well. It is hoped that you could understand the sensitivity of the issue and refrain from providing support to the “Tibetan independence” forces, and make contributions to China-India bilateral relations.”

When contacted, Chandrasekhar said, “I was a member of the Indo-Tibetan Parliamentary forum under the chairmanship of (BJP veteran) Shanta Kumarji and I was invited in the capacity. I attended the dinner.”

BJD’s Kumar, who is also convenor of the forum, said: “Personally speaking, I don’t consider Tibet to be a part of China. That is separate because the Government of India’s official policy is different. But this parliamentary forum on Tibet is to support the cause of Tibetan cultural and religious beliefs and is between the people of India and the Tibetan government-in-exile. One should not read too much politics into it.”

Kumar said: “The stated goals of the parliamentary forum is not to advocate for the independence of Tibet or anything controversial. It is largely to build a relationship between the government-in-exile and the people of India because of the shared history, shared civilization and linkages..because of Buddhism, because of trade between Tibet and India in the past. The idea is to build on those linkages. I think I have already received four or five letters from the Embassy. I give them befitting replies, too,” he said.

In 2018, the union government had advised senior ministers and bureaucrats to stay away from ‘Thank You India’ events organised by Tibetan leaders.

When contacted, INC’s Jairam Ramesh confirmed that he had received a letter from the Political Counsellor. “When I was asked to speak (at the event), I said I never go to any evening functions but I have made an exception because of my profound admiration for the Buddha, deep respect for the and in gratitude for the role Tibetan sources have played in the rediscovery of India’s heritage.”

India has had a consistently supportive policy towards the exiled leaders of Tibet. In a careful balancing act on its pledged support to Tibetans, while seeking a peaceful relationship with China, India’s position has been to recognise Tibet as an autonomous region of the People’s Republic of China. It “continues to seek a fair, reasonable and mutually acceptable solution to the vexed boundary issue” with China.

Sixty years ago, around 80,000 Tibetans, along with their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama, left Lhasa after a failed uprising against the communist rule and arrived in India.

The Tibetan exile administration, called CTA, is based in where the spiritual leader also lives. About 1,40,000 Tibetans now live in exile, over 100,000 of them in different parts of India. Over six million Tibetans live in Tibet.

In 2018, the union government had advised senior ministers and bureaucrats to stay away from ‘Thank You India’ events organised by Tibetan leaders.

An official dated 22 February 2018, advising “senior leaders” and “government functionaries” of the union government had asked India’s public office bearers to stay away from events organised by Tibetan leaders, citing “very sensitive times” in bilateral relations on India and China.

The then Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale had written it to the cabinet secretary at the time, PK Sinha, who issued a directive two days later.

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