New Delhi has long held the Dalai Lama issue as leverage that it can use against China. Indian President Pranab Mukherjee met with the Tibetan separatist in exile in India this month, probably as moral support to Mongolia, which mired itself in diplomatic trouble after receiving the Dalai Lama in November. According to Indian media, the Dalai Lama was invited to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the Indian Presidential Palace, on December 11, and participated in an event with the Indian President.
Mongolian Foreign Minister Tsend Munkh-Orgil said Tuesday that Mongolia will not allow the Dalai Lama to visit the country, even in the name of religion, thus settling a one-month standoff between Mongolia and China. But a long lingering issue behind it all is how India should handle its relationship with the Dalai Lama.
After China initiated countermeasures, including canceling investment talks and imposing additional tolls on Mongolian cargo passing through Chinese territory, the Mongolians later tried to seek support from India, hoping that by allying with China’s competitor, Beijing would be forced to give in. New Delhi expressed its concerns about Mongolia’s well-being, and vaguely pledged to put into effect a credit line of $1 billion it promised to Mongolia in 2015. However, before India’s bureaucrats could start, Ulaanbaatar caved in to the reality.
India’s way of dealing with the issue shows, once again, the gap between its ambition and its strength. It is way beyond India’s capability to acquire leverage against China by employing a proxy or challenging China’s bottom line. India has used the Dalai Lama card from time to time in a retaliatory move against China.
India should draw some lessons from the recent interactions between Beijing and US President-elect Donald Trump over Taiwan. After putting out feelers to test China’s determination to protect its essential interests, Trump has met China’s restrained but pertinent countermeasures, and must have understood that China’s bottom line – sovereign integrity and national unity – is untouchable. Even the US would have to think twice before it messes with China on such sensitive problems, so what makes India so confident that it could manage?
Sometimes, India behaves like a spoiled kid, carried away by the lofty crown of being “the biggest democracy in the world.” India has the potential to be a great nation, but the country’s vision is shortsighted.
India wants to disturb China’s pace of development by taking advantage of China’s national and international problems, most of which have nothing to do with India’s national interests.