02.12.2016 Author: Vladimir Terehov

On China’s Reaction to Dalai Lama’s 14th Visit to Mongolia

423123212International news agencies are already beginning to move ahead in the list of the top event involving a five-day visit (from November 18 to November 23, 2016) by the 14th Dalai Lama to Mongolia mainly due to the publicly expressed opposition against China making this visit.

The official representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry urged Mongolia in the strongest possible terms to assume “the wider picture of the stable development of bilateral relations” and cancel the visit. In the same statement, the Chinese Foreign Ministry warned the Mongolian leadership against “supporting the Dalai Lama faction’s separatist actions” ().

As the New Eastern Outlook has written many times, the last statement has a long-standing nature when China is discussing various aspects of the activities of the global Buddhism spiritual leader).

In the eyes of Beijing, the current Dalai Lama has since 1959 been serving as the head of the “Tibetan Separatists’ Faction”, when an armed revolt broke out in Tibet not without external involvement, but was quickly crushed by the Chinese People’s Liberation Army. This resulted in the next wave of Tibetan refugees, who moved mostly to neighbouring India.

The 14th Dalai Lama was among these refugees. Since then, his residence and the Parliament and the Government of Tibet in Exile have been located in the city of Dharamsala in Northern India.

Although in 2011, the current Dalai Lama announced departure from politics and focus on being the spiritual leader of all Buddhists (whose number, according to estimates, could reach up to 1 billion people), he, however, de facto and regardless of his own wishes and specific actions, continues to play a prominent role on the international political chessboard.

In particular, it concerns an important fragment that is formed by a triangle of such leading global powers as the USA, India, and China. Beijing perceives this role very negatively, which explains the sharpness of the above-mentioned statement by the Chinese Foreign Ministry in respect of the Buddhists leader’s current visit to Mongolia.

It should be noted that Mongolia also plays an important role in the game of the above-mentioned leading players and others.

Ulan Bator cannot be unaware of the “peculiarities” of Dalai Lama’s relations with the great neighbour of Mongolia, which is its major economic partner. Therefore, the Mongolian government officially had no relation to Dalai Lama’s current visit to the country. He arrived at invitation of the monks from a number of Mongolian monasteries, the Gandantegchinlen Capital being the main one.

As for the 14th Dalai Lama, he announced in advance that he had had no plans on establishing contacts with Mongolian officials, especially with its leadership, taking into account the same “peculiarities”.

The latter should have helped him alleviate the problem that inevitably arose due to ignoring Beijing’s call to ban the visit of the “Leader of Tibetan Separatists” to the country.

As you can see, in this case, Dalai Lama’s main purpose in visiting Mongolia was not for the visit to serve as a political anti-Chinese demonstration, but was spiritual in nature. The visit was confined to a closed meeting with Mongolian bishops, as well as public conversations with groups of believers.

However, a speech in a square in Ulan Bator included words that could hardly appeal to Beijing. This included statements like: “In general, Mongolia and Tibet have maintained close relations since the dawn of time – from the pre-Buddhist times. … In connection with the spread of Buddhism, our “master-follower” relations have grown even deeper.

These words contributed to the negative assessment of the results of Dalai Lama’s visit to Mongolia by China, despite the “security measures” taken by the Mongolian leadership, which should have left no doubt on the exclusively private (“spiritual”) character of this visit.

In the course of the November 23 Daily Briefing by the official representative of the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, this visit was described as “an erroneous action taken by the Mongolian side that impacted on Chinese-Mongolia relations“.

The announced response procedures include the postponement of the previously scheduled intergovernmental meeting for an indefinite period and the expected conclusion of new agreements in the fields of mining and energy production.

They also hinted at a possible review of the existing agreements that were concluded during Chinese President, Xi Jinping’s official visit to Mongolia in August 2014.

Among other things, Beijing referred to the possible abolition of the use of the Chinese railway and port infrastructure by the Mongolians for exporting Mongolian products, mainly coal and other minerals, to foreign markets.

It is important to note that the export of such products continues to support Mongolia’s economy. However, this is increasingly becoming difficult, as it is integrated into the global economy, which has been facing serious problems in recent years.

Mongolia’s hopes on the possible passing of the railway route through its territory as part of China’s ‘Revival of the Silk Road’ initiative may make it become the victim of the suddenly emerged tension in bilateral relations.

Taking into consideration the high level of Mongolia’s economic dependence on ties with China, the above mentioned “enforcement measures” (if they are implemented in full) could result in the most serious consequences for the country.

Due to Mongolia’s specific geographical position, the country can hardly expect prompt assistance from some “third neighbour” that is barely designated in Mongolia’s foreign policy.

The unprecedented severity of the above-mentioned “measures” against the country that allowed Dalai Lama to visit its territory requires attention. Previously in such cases, everything was confined to the Chinese Foreign Ministry’s varyingly rigid statements.

One of the several explanations of Mongolia’s loss of this practice may be associated with the worsening of the general problems of “separatism” on the outskirts of China, which has been discussed several times on the pages of the New Eastern Outlook with respect to Tibet, Hong Kong, Taiwan. This problem also exists in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Territory in a more pronounced form.

With respect to this common problem, Beijing tends to give a significant role to the current Dalai Lama and to the regional and global political opponents “behind him”, mainly India and the United States.

Finally, it is not clear whether Mongolia’s leadership have properly assessed the risks associated with the resolution for the 14th Dalai Lama to visit the country, even if this is a private visit for exclusively spiritual purposes.

Vladimir Terekhov, expert on the issues of the Asia-Pacific region, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook


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