Dalai Lama visits monastery despite protests from China

Sunday, November 8, 2009

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The Dalai Lama visited a Tibetan monastery on Sunday in Tawang in the northeast Himalayan region of Arunachal Pradesh in India, which is disputed by China and India. This is his second controversial visit this year, following a previous visit to Taiwan in August, also claimed by China.

The Chinese government has protested at the visit, accusing the Dalai Lama of trying to undermine their rule in Tibet and accusing the visit of anti-China sentiments. The Dalai Lama refutes these claims, calling the visit "non-political".

Thousands of Buddhists welcomed the spiritual leader, who fled Tibet to live in exile in India in 1959, upon his arrival at the monastery. "We are very pleased and blessed to have His Holiness here," said Sarwang Lama, one of the monks. Tibetan prayer flags and posters of the Nobel peace prize winner decorated the route and monks played cymbals and horns.

The region of Arunachal Pradesh is of symbolic importance to the spiritual leader; it was through here that he fled to exile fifty years ago. "There are a lot of emotions involved," he said. "When I escaped from China in 1959, I was mentally and physically very weak [...] The Chinese did not pursue us in 1959, but when I reached India they started speaking against me."

Although this the first time the Dalai Lama has visited Tawang, it comes amidst mounting tensions between India and China over the disputed border. In the past months both countries have moved troops and there have been minor incidents, although nothing similar to the intense war which took place briefly in 1962.

The Dalai Lama remains stoic about Chinese reactions. "It is quite usual for China to step up campaigning against me wherever I go," he said. "It is totally baseless on the part of the Chinese communist government to say that I am encouraging a separatist movement [...] My visit to Tawang is non-political and aimed at promoting universal brotherhood and nothing else."