The 14th Dalai Lama currently lives in exile in India, residing in the city of Dharamshala. The Dalai Lama was forced to seek refuge in India after the 1959 Tibetan Uprising in which an armed conflict took place between Tibetan rebels and the Chinese army in Lhasa. Since then, the Dalai Lama has lived in exile In Dharamshala alongside other Tibetan government officials, who were eventually able to establish the Central Tibetan Administration. Being the largest country that borders the Tibetan Autonomous Region, India naturally became the biggest haven for exiled Tibetan refugees. The Indian government has allowed these Tibetan refugees to build several schools and Buddhist temples in Dharamshala. Over the years, India’s generosity toward the Dalai Lama has strained its relations with China, which places significant pressure on India to not accept or help him. The Dalai Lama has strengthened his association with India with public statements such as claiming to be a “son of India” and saying that he was “Tibetan in appearance, but an Indian in spirituality.” Consequently, the Indian government has faced a great deal of criticism from the Chinese government, who claim that India’s aid to the Dalai Lama is damaging their ties with China.
While India and China are both considered developing nations, India’s economic development still lags significantly behind that of China. India knows that developing good relations with neighboring China is essential to continuing its economic progress. India stands to gain a great deal from improved trade relations with China, but there are still obstacles that continue to hinder the development of this relationship. The Dalai Lama and the issue of Tibetan exiles is one of those obstacles. China is constantly accusing India of being pro-Tibet, even though India clearly acknowledges that Tibet is a Chinese territory. India has had to be very tactful in how it has handled this tense issue regarding Tibet. While India still continues to selectively defend the Dalai Lama and Tibetan refugees, the Indian government has been forced to reconsider its policies toward their Tibetan guests. In recent times, India has taken more ambiguous standpoints toward Tibetans in order to placate the Chinese. India has long realized that it can apply pressure on the Chinese by simply altering its policies toward Tibetan separatist activities. However, this former leverage held by India may be disappearing as their economic development becomes increasingly dependent on the strength and nature of their relationship with the Chinese.
India must seriously consider whether or not the potential economic benefits of cooperative relations with China will outweigh the diminishing benefits of supporting exiled Tibetans. With tensions still high between Tibetans and the Chinese, India’s slightest support of Tibetan separatist activities has the potential to seriously impede future beneficial relations between India and China.