New Delhi. Oct. 28: China on Friday warned India that allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh could "harm" peace and stability along their contested border, and cause "serious damage" to bilateral relations, a day after New Delhi indicated it would back the spiritual leader's planned trip.
The BJP-backed government of the northeastern state had on October 9 invited the Tibetan leader to visit Arunachal for a cultural festival in April 2017, and the Dalai Lama had accepted the invitation.
The invitation is unlikely to have been extended without the express clearance of the Narendra Modi government, which is aware of China's sensitivities both over the Dalai Lama - who it calls a "splittist" - and Arunachal, which it claims.
China had only last week protested against a visit by US ambassador Richard Verma to Arunachal Pradesh, but had carefully steered clear of blaming India - instead accusing the American envoy of trying to "interfere" in India-China relations.
But that benefit of doubt extended to India in public over Verma's visit - also impossible, even in theory, without the foreign office's sanction - evaporated today over the upcoming trip by the 82-year-old Tibetan leader.
"We express our grave concern," Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said in a media briefing in Beijing. "China's position on the eastern section of (the) China-India border is consistent and clear. The Dalai clique is engaged in anti-China separatist activity and has very disgraceful behaviour on issues relating to China-India boundary question."
India's invitation to the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal, Lu said, "will only damage peace, stability of the border areas as well as the bilateral relationship between China and India."
The ministry of external affairs had on Thursday pointed out that the Dalai Lama has earlier too, in 2009, visited Arunachal Pradesh. Then too, China had protested but India had not allowed Beijing's criticism to stop it from allowing the Tibetan leader to visit the state.
"You are all aware that His Highness Dalai Lama is a revered spiritual figure and an honoured guest of India," foreign ministry spokesperson Vikas Swarup had said. "He is absolutely free to travel to any part of the country. He has visited the state in the past as well and we see nothing unusual if he visits again."
But Lu responded today arguing that "making one mistake does not mean that you can make another mistake".
Lu also alleged that allowing the Dalai Lama to visit Arunachal Pradesh would amount to a violation of India's commitment to not allow the Tibetans-in-exile community to engage in anti-China activities - even though the Tibetan leader is officially visiting for a cultural festival.
"Allowing the Dalai Lama to visit the disputed border area would be like giving an anti-China stage, which is in violation of India's commitment," Lu said. "This is not conducive to peace and stability in the border areas of India. It would cause serious damage to Sino-Indian relations."
The spat over the Dalai Lama and Arunachal Pradesh comes amid heightened tensions over Pakistan-backed terrorism, a trade and transit corridor China is building through Pakistan-occupied Kashmir, and India's bid to join the Nuclear Suppliers Group.
China has blocked Indian efforts at getting the UN to proscribe major Pakistan-based terrorists like Masood Azhar, and has opposed India's membership to the NSG.