Dalai shadow on China’s future leader’s visit

New Delhi : The sudden postponement of boundary talks due to differences over Tibetan spiritual leader Dalai Lama’s presence at a Buddhist conference here has also put a question mark on the visit to India of China’s vice president Xi Jinping, widely seen as the country’s next leader.

China’s Special Representative Dai Bingguo was expected to be in Delhi Monday for the 15th round of border talks with National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, India’s chief pointsperson for the boundary talks.

During the talks, the two senior officials were also expected to discuss the agenda for the visit of Xi Jinping, who is expected to succeed Chinese President Hu Jintao next year. The dates for Xi’s visit were not finalised, but there were indications that he could visit India next January.

India is keen to roll out the red carpet for Xi, also Vice Chairman of the powerful Central Military Commission, so as to build an equation with the the the fifth generation of leadership of the Communist Party of China after Hu steps down next year.

But the postponement of boundary talks due to the row over the Dalai Lama have now put a question mark over Xi’s visit.

If Xi is not able to come to India by February, it won’t be possible for him to come here before he becomes the next president as he will be preoccupied with the succession process from February onwards, Srikanth Kondapalli, a China expert at Jawaharlal Nehru University, said.

In fact, there was a plan for Xi to come to India in December last year, but this could not happen due to protocol issues as Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao was visiting New Delhi in the same month.

The boundary talks, which were expected to be held Nov 28-29, were called off a couple of days ago as India refused to relent on the Chinese demand for cancellation of the four-day Global Buddhist Congregation here at which the Dalai Lama was to make a valedictory speech. The conference coincided with the talks.

India is understood to have conveyed to China its oft-reiterated position that the Dalai Lama was a spiritual leader and an honored guest and was, therefore, free to speak on spiritual matters.

Beijing hardened its stand, highly-placed sources said, and demanded cancelation of the conference at which Buddhist scholars from other countries were also invited. India refused to budge.

However, both India and China officially have tried to downplay the deferment of boundary talks and have said efforts were on to fix new dates.

Highly-placed sources said the boundary talks could take place as early as next month.

“The postponement of the boundary talks is not a major event. If the scheduled visit of the president, prime minister or foreign minister was deferred, it would have been a cause of worry,” said Kondapalli.

“It does not reflect a major souring of relations. There have been some tensions between India and China, but the two countries have not been in eyeball-to-eyeball confrontational mode,” he added.

The sudden postponement of boundary talks amid some tough posturing by Beijing on India’s foray into oil exploration in the disputed South China Sea has brought out recent tensions in bilateral ties to the fore.

On Nov 18, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh met Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao on the margins of the East Asia Summit in Bali.

Both leaders tried to project a picture of “all is well,” and echoed each other saying there was enough space for India and China to flourish. There were, however, some discordant notes, with Wen warning against external interference in the South China Sea, an area which is claimed by China in full.

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