By James Lamont in Chennai and Leslie Hook in Beijing
India and China have cancelled sensitive border talks to avoid an embarrassing clash with a Buddhist conference in Delhi attended by theDalai Lama, the exiled Tibetan spiritual leader, according to the Indian government.
The two Asian powers were scheduled to start on Monday the next round in long-running talks to resolve a border dispute over Arunachal Pradesh, the Indian state which China claims as south Tibet. Dai Bingguo, China’s top foreign policy official, was to travel to the Indian capital for discussions with Shivshankar Menon, India’s national security adviser.
But the talks would have coincided with a meeting of religious leaders and scholars from 32 countries at the Global Buddhist Congregation 2011 which starts on Sunday. The Dalai Lama, who China vilifies, is expected to speak at the closing event on Wednesday.
Wen Jiabao, the Chinese premier, and Manmohan Singh, India’s prime minister, last year agreed to reinvigorate efforts to resolve disagreement over the colonial-era McMahon Line that separates India and Tibet. The two sides have fought over the border in the past, most recently in 1962 when China inflicted a humiliating defeat on India.
Beijing has refused to elaborate on the talks, saying only that China and India were in touch about dates for the next round. India’s foreign ministry said that it was still “looking forward” to the border talks and was seeking alternative dates. A representative of the Dalai Lama said China had leant on New Delhi to prevent the spiritual leader speaking at the Buddhist conference.
More recently, Indian officials have become rattled by China’s growing influence in the region – particularly in Burma, Pakistan and Sri Lanka – and what they describe as Beijing’s “assertiveness” in its territorial claims.
Beijing has become increasingly angered by India’s involvement in oil exploration in the South China Sea, an area claimed by China as well as several other countries, including Vietnam.
In October, ONGC, India’s state-run oil company, signed a co-operation agreement with PetroVietnam, sparking vehement commentary from Chinese state-run media, with one paper saying “India’s energy strategy is slipping into an extremely dangerous whirlpool”.
The South China Sea issue was also raised when Mr Wen met Mr Singh at the East Asia Summit in Bali earlier this month. Mr Singh insisted that the agreement between PetroVietnam and ONGC was “purely commercial”.
In an unusual event highlighting the rising tensions, the FT reported in August that an Indian naval vessel paying a port call to Vietnam had been threatened by a radio call from the Chinese navy.
Tensions between India and China were further raised earlier this month when India ran a series of missile tests that included long-range missiles capable of hitting targets inside China.
“Things are heated between both nations and China’s outrageous demands are responsible for this,” said Thubten Samphel, a representative of the Dalai Lama in Dharamsala. “Clearly China is infringing on India’s domestic affairs.”
The Buddhist conference comes at a time of heightened concern about China’s rule of Tibet after a series of self-immolations by Tibetans within Tibet in recent months. Earlier this month, the Dalai Lama accused Beijing of pursuing “cultural genocide” which he said was triggering such extreme protests.
The conference has drawn support from the Indian government. Karan Singh, a close ally of Congress party president Sonia Gandhi, and Sheila Dikshit, the chief minister of Delhi, were expected to attend its opening, as was Sushma Swaraj, a leader of the Bharatiya Janata party.
Penguin, the publishing house owned by Pearson, the parent company of the Financial Times, has invited the Dalai Lama to give its annual lecture in India later next week.
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