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Dalai Lama's Visit To India Certain To Upset China

STEVE INSKEEP, Host:

Hi, Phil.

PHILIP REEVES: Hi.

INSKEEP: Where will the Dalai Lama visit?

REEVES: Well, this is a huge, heavily forested, very wet, lush sweep of hills and mountains up in the Himalayas. If you look on a map, you'll find it sandwiched between the kingdom of Bhutan and Myanmar and Chinese-ruled Tibet. Now, for India, this area is the state of Arunachal Pradesh. It's one of a cluster of states up there in the far northeast of the country. China maintains, though, that 90,000 square kilometers of this area is in fact part of Tibet and therefore, it believes, part of its territory.

INSKEEP: Well, let's remember that the Dalai Lama is in exile from Tibet, the Tibetan spiritual leader. He's been living in India. And what is he going to be doing in this disputed territory?

REEVES: Well, he's confirmed that he's planning to go there on the 8th of November, and to stay there for about a week. Now, the people up in that area practice Tibetan Buddhism. So he's planning to meet his followers, to visit a 400-year-old Buddhist monastery, to pray in temples in the area. So on the face of it, this is a spiritual mission although of course, the Chinese don't see it that way.

INSKEEP: And what makes it very sensitive for them?

REEVES: Well, as you know, he's been pressing for full autonomy for Tibet for years. Beijing sees him, though, as an out and out separatist. It calls him, to use its colorful language, a splitist. It appears to view this trip as an attempt to undermine China's territorial claim to the area, and to support India's claim to it.

INSKEEP: Well, then what do the Chinese do? He is, after all, across the international border as it stands now.

REEVES: But this issue could - will very likely come up, I think, at a meeting between Manmohan Singh and his Chinese counterpart Wen Jiabao, which is happening tomorrow on the sidelines of a regional summit being held in a beach resort in Thailand. So this is an opportunity for both sides to cool tempers after some really quite barbed exchanges.

INSKEEP: An opportunity to cool tempers, but also a reminder of a longtime rivalry here between two countries that have actually fought combat over where the border should be. And I suppose a reminder for the Chinese that India is, as they would see it, harboring someone that they would very much not like to be free at the moment.

REEVES: But let's not forget, Steve, that mutual trade's heading towards the $60 billion mark between India and China. That's a big, big rise on say, 10 years ago. And they are cooperating on some fronts, including a common stance on climate change at the forthcoming Copenhagen summit.

INSKEEP: Philip, thanks very much.

REEVES: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Philip Reeves is an award-winning international correspondent covering South America. Previously, he served as NPR's correspondent covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India.
Steve Inskeep is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.