BEIJING/TAWANG (India) • China has said India's decision to host exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on a contested stretch of land on the India- China border would cause serious damage to relations between the two countries.
The Dalai Lama's week- long trip to Arunachal Pradesh, an eastern Himalayan region administered by New Delhi but claimed by China as "southern Tibet", has raised hackles in Beijing, which labels the monk a dangerous separatist.
"China expresses firm opposition to this and will lodge stern representations with the Indian side," Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing in the Chinese capital yesterday.
The 81-year-old Buddhist monk and Nobel Peace laureate had planned to fly by helicopter to the 17th-century Tawang monastery and hold three days of spiritual teachings, from yesterday.
However, heavy rainfall forced him to travel by road - a two-day drive through rugged mountain terrain - and he is now not expected to arrive until tomorrow.
The Dalai Lama received a rapturous welcome on Tuesday in the town of Bomdila, with large crowds turning out in streets festooned with flags, as musicians and dancers clad in traditional costumes performed before his sport utility vehicle.
Indian officials have dismissed China's criticism of the Dalai Lama's second visit to Arunachal Pradesh in eight years, saying he is a spiritual leader with a devoted following. "His visit to this part of the country is totally religious," the state's chief minister Pema Khandu told Reuters Television.
"As far as the boundary issue is concerned, I have also maintained that we don't share our boundary with China, but we share our boundary with Tibet."
Beijing said that by ignoring its concerns and persisting in arranging the trip, New Delhi had "severely damaged China's interests and China- India relations".
"We demand that India immediately cease using the Dalai Lama's mistaken behaviour to damage China's interests," Ms Hua added.
"It will not bring any benefit to India. China will take necessary measures to firmly safeguard its territorial sovereignty and legitimate rights."