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Monday, 10 January, 2000, 16:05 GMT
Diplomatic jitters over Lama's visit

The Karmapa Lama's flight from Lhasa has embarrassed China

By Asia affairs specialist James Miles

The arrival in the Indian town of Dharamsala of the 14-year-old Tibetan Buddhist leader, the Karmapa Lama, comes at an awkward time for the Indian Government as it tries to improve its strained relationship with Beijing.

It could also create diplomatic difficulties for the United States, whose top official responsible for Tibetan affairs is visiting India this week on what Washington insists is unrelated business.

India is in a spot over the Karmapa Lama's visit

Delhi has so far adopted a neutral stance on the Lama's unexpected flight from his homeland to the seat of the self-styled Tibetan government in exile.

It is clearly worried about stirring up renewed tensions with Beijing, which would undoubtedly be enraged by any formal offer of asylum.

Strained relations

Relations between China and India were plunged to a new low two years ago by India's nuclear tests and statements by the Indian Defence Minister, George Fernandes, that China presented the biggest potential security threat to his country.

Since then, India has been trying to repair the diplomatic damage, not least because of its desire to avoid giving China a pretext for strengthening its relationship with India's rival, Pakistan.

China refuses to recognise Julia Taft's role

Washington too is trying to mend fences with Beijing following a severe downturn in relations caused by last year's Nato action against Yugoslavia, as well as by disputes over Taiwan, trade and human rights issues.

But this week's visit to India by the US State Department's special co-ordinator on Tibet, Julia Taft, could drag Washington into the diplomatic fallout from the Karmapa Lama's flight.

US visit

Tibetan exiles in Dharamsala, as well as US officials, say Ms Taft's visit was arranged several months ago and has nothing to do with the Karmapa Lama's arrival.

Ms Taft is due to hold talks with representatives of the Tibetan refugee community with which her department provides some $2m in humanitarian aid annually.

China, however, refuses to recognise Ms Taft's role in Tibetan affairs and is likely to be annoyed by her visit given that it will focus even greater international attention on the Karmapa Lama's flight.

Dalai Lama Beijing refuses to talk to the Dalai Lama

Although the United States, like India, regards Tibet as part of China, one of Ms Taft's main official duties is to promote dialogue between Beijing and the Tibetan exiles' leader, the Dalai Lama.

Beijing refuses to talk to the Dalai Lama and accuses him of trying to separate Tibet from China.

Although Beijing has tried to present the Karmapa Lama's departure as nothing untoward, it is certain to be embarrassed by the obvious morale boost it has given the Tibetan exile community.

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See also:
10 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Asylum plea for Karmapa Lama
08 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Who is the Karmapa Lama?
07 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Lama's flight embarrasses Beijing
07 Jan 00 |  Asia-Pacific
Tibetan Lama flees to India
18 Jun 99 |  Asia-Pacific
Panchen Lama returns to Tibet
11 Mar 99 |  From Our Own Correspondent
Tibetans keep their faith

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