In what comes as strong message by the Trump administration to China, Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback, who is on a visit to India, met Tibetan spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, at Dharamshala in the state of Himachal Pradesh on Monday. As per the US State Department, the US diplomat delivered a speech alongside the Tibetan spiritual leader during the 60th anniversary celebration of the Tibetan Institute for the Performing Arts. He also discussed ways for improving religious freedom for the Tibetan Buddhists around the world during his meeting with the Dalai Lama. After meeting the Tibetan spiritual leader, Brownback tweeted, “Inspired and deeply moved after my meeting with His Holiness Dalai Lama in India. He is living testament of the power of religious freedom to overcome hate, division, and intolerance. I’m stirred in my own faith to work harder for religious freedom for all, including Tibetans.”
Inspired and deeply moved after my meeting with His Holiness @DalaiLama in #India. He is living testament of the power of #religiousfreedom to overcome hate, division, and intolerance. I’m stirred in my own faith to work harder for #religiousfreedom for all, including Tibetans. pic.twitter.com/dngi5Im4Ts
— Ambassador Sam Brownback (@IRF_Ambassador) October 28, 2019
The US diplomat’s meeting assumes significance and must have irked the dragon given that China has been traditionally opposed to any country across the world interacting with the Dalai Lama or hosting the Tibetan spiritual leader. It is relevant to mention here that in 2017, Beijing had gone on to state that it would consider any country or world leader hosting or meeting the Dalai Lama to be a “major offence”. China has even accused the 84-year old leader of “betraying his motherland and setup his so called government in exile”. China considers the Dalai Lama to be a secessionist leader who is trying to split Tibet from it. China has also been adamant on not accepting the fact that world leaders meet the Dalai Lama in his religious capacity. The dragon argues that the Dalai Lama is “a political figure under the cloak of religion.” In such circumstances, the reports of the top US diplomat meeting the Dalai Lama meeting the Dalai Lama is bound to infuriate China.
What makes Brownback’s meeting with the Dalai Lama even more infuriating for China is the fact that it comes right after the US Ambassador to India, Kenneth Ian Juster attended the Tawang Festival on Monday. He became the second US diplomat in three years to attend the Tawang festival in the state of Arunachal Pradesh, a part of the Indian territory that China claims to be South Tibet. In fact, it is the US Ambassador who inaugurated the four-day Tawang festival in the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. Arunachal CM, Pema Khandu tweeted, “United States Ambassador to India Mr Kenneth I Juster declares the 4-day TawangFestival open. Thank you Mr Kenneth for your kind presence today as Chief Guest for the occasion.”
United States Ambassador to India Mr Kenneth I Juster declares the 4-day #TawangFestival open. Thank you Mr Kenneth for your kind presence today as Chief Guest for the occasion. @PMOIndia @KirenRijiju @ArunachalTsm @tourismgoi @incredibleindia pic.twitter.com/qv5bp7fa4Q
— Pema Khandu (@PemaKhanduBJP) October 28, 2019
As stated earlier, China does not recognise the state of Arunachal Pradesh as a part of India’s territory, rather the dragon describes the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, as ‘South Tibet’. It has been opposed to even Indian ministers visiting the Northeastern state of India. The issue came up again during PM Modi’s Arunachal visit in the month of February this year. Beijing was rattled by PM Modi’s visit and went on to object to his visit to the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh. In such circumstances, the US Ambassador’s visit to the state of Arunachal Pradesh and his attendance at the Tawang festival is a strong endorsement of India’s territorial interests and the fact that Arunachal Pradesh is an integral, inseparable part of India.
Even the US has made it clear that its envoy’s Arunachal visit is a display of its support for India’s sovereignty. Acting Assistant Secretary Alice Wells, Trump administration’s pointperson for South Asia tweeted, “@USAmbIndia’s #Tawang visit highlights resolute U.S. support for Indian sovereignty and commitment to local partnerships. U.S. funding supports joint public health and social sciences work in #Arunachal by @USouthFlorida and Rajiv Gandhi University. AGW”. Therefore, this is not just subtle signalling but the Trump administration has actually given a vocal and unequivocal message to China.
.@USAmbIndia's #Tawang visit highlights resolute U.S. support for Indian sovereignty and commitment to local partnerships. U.S. funding supports joint public health and social sciences work in #Arunachal by @USouthFlorida and Rajiv Gandhi University. AGW https://t.co/9ii4yW5Ks2
— State_SCA (@State_SCA) October 30, 2019
The above-mentioned developments are going to rile up Beijing further, which has already been infuriated by the stance taken by the Trump administration on several issues ranging from the trade war to South China Sea dispute. It must be noted that President Trump has been pretty vocal about the ongoing US-China trade war. Recently he had said that 13 per cent of companies will leave China “in the fairly near future”. President Trump had also told reporters at the White House, “It’s a bad situation they (Chinese) have put themselves in. And I just saw — it came over the wires — that 13% of certain companies are going to be leaving China in the not-too-distant future. That’s a big thing.”
Trump also did not mince his words during his UNGA address, when he spoke about China’s atrocities in Hong Kong. The US President warned China that its conduct in Hong Kong will “say a great deal about its role in the world in the future.” He also said, “As we endeavor to stabilize our relationship, we’re also carefully monitoring the situation in Hong Kong. The world fully expects that the Chinese government will honor its binding treaty, made with the British and registered with the United Nations, in which China commits to protect Hong Kong’s freedom, legal system, and democratic ways of life.”
China has also been annoyed by the aggressive stance that the Trump administration has taken as regards the South China Sea dispute. It is at such a critical juncture that the Trump administration has chosen to step up the heat by strongly endorsing India’s territorial sovereignty in Arunachal Pradesh and also by interacting with the Dalai Lama despite China’s staunch opposition to any country interacting with the Tibetan spiritual leader.