NEW DELHI: India and China are engaged currently in their worst diplomatic spat in recent years over the nine day visit of the Dalai Lama to Arunachal Pradesh with Beijing threatening to re-visit and ‘escalate’ border issues with India.

Even as junior minister Kiren Rijiju told China to minds its own business, China on issued a strong statement accusing India of being "obstinate" and "disregarding China's concerns.”This coincides with the arrival of the Dalai Lama in Tawang.

The Chinese Foreign Ministry made it clear that this visit will “escalate” border disputes between the two countries. And spokesperson Hua Chunying further stated, "We demand India stop using the Dalai Lama to do anything that undermines China's interests and we also demand the Indian side not hype up sensitive issues between India and China".

"India in disregard of China's concerns obstinately arranged the Dalai [Lama]'s visit to the eastern part of the India China border causing serious damage to China's interests and to India China relations,"he added.

"The Chinese side firmly opposes this move and will lodge firm representations with the Indian side", Hua said dismissing New Delhi’s claim of the visit being “religious” as just “empty words”.

"We have noted the statement form officials of the Indian side," Hua said. "Can you tell me honestly do you seriously believe the Dalai [Lama] is only a religious leader? The answer is known to all. He is not just a religious figure. Therefore his visit to this place will not be of a purely religious purpose. So using these empty words to define this arrangement is not reasonable".

Hua further countered Rijiju’s comments of the Dalai Lama’s visit to Arunachal Pradesh being an internal matter saying that it “goes beyond internal affairs.” Hua further added, “the role played by the Dalai Lama is clear to all. The issues concerning Tibet have a bearing on China's core interests. India in disregard of China's concerns obstinately arranged the visit. This will for sure trigger China's dissatisfaction.”

"We know India and China are two close neighbours and countries in Asia. Cooperation between us will serve interests of the region. We hope to maintain good momentum of growth but this move runs counter to this wish, so we hope India stops doing things that undermine our interests” Hua said in a response that has followed a volley of exchanges between the two sides, with China using both the Foreign Ministry and the official media to warn India of consequences.

The first direct reference to border disputes being escalated has come Wednesday from Beijing now, and could serve as a major setback to all that has been achieved by successive Indian governments---starting with former BJP Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee---to place these issues on the backburner of continued negotiations and move ahead on economic and other cooperation. Significantly since the talks began, and progressed, China has stopped claiming Sikkim, removing it from its map in what was seen as a major development by India’s foreign office and diplomacy experts.

China that has been warning against the visit to what it calls ‘South Tibet’ had stepped up its opposition with an article in the state run Global Times that openly stated that this visit “gravely damages the China-India relationship.”

Global Times, a mouthpiece of the government in China, further states, “Unlike his predecessors, India's Prime Minister Narendra Modi seems to have taken a different stance on the Dalai issue, raising public engagements with the monk and challenging Beijing's bottom line. The Dalai Lama was received by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee in December, and invited by Pema Khandu, "chief minister" of "Arunachal Pradesh," to Tawang this month. "It's a behavioral change you are seeing. India is more assertive," Rijiju openly said in an interview with Reuters earlier.”

The article further states that India might have underestimated China adding,”New Delhi may have underestimated Beijing's determination to safeguard its core interests.” And again, “New Delhi should overcome its suspicions against Beijing. China doesn't allow India to free ride on its economic growth while jeopardizing Beijing's core interests.”

This was after a direct recognition of what the article outlined as: “New Delhi is dissatisfied with Beijing's stance over its membership bid to the Nuclear Suppliers Group and its request to name Masood Azhar, head of Pakistani militant group, to a UN Security Council blacklist. Therefore, Delhi attempts to play the Tibet card against Beijing.” And of course, went on to state that China was not trying to make trouble for India but was acting as per UN regulations and international practices.

Significantly, there seem to be no signs of a rapprochement with New Delhi making it clear through junior minister Kiren Rijiju that “"Arunachal Pradesh is an inseparable part of India, and China should not object to his visit and interfere in India's internal affairs.” China has now retored with a “this is absurd” with the article going on to point out that, “the Dalai Lama has long been active in anti-China separatist activities under the guise of religion. New Delhi inviting the Dalai Lama to sensitive region gravely damages the China-India relationship.”

Interestingly, China has also brought up the decision by the government to link Tawang with a railway network maintaining this to be “another provocation against Beijing.” The concerns were further highlighted by the Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lu Kang last week at a press conference where he said that China was firmly opposed to the visit by the Dalai Lama to Tawang.

"China is gravely concerned about this. Our stance on the eastern part of the China-India border is clear and consistent," Lu said.

Last year New Delhi had given permission for a meeting at the Dharamshala of Chinese separatists invited from other parts of the world. The Citizen had reported this in detail The--Dragon-Fumes-as-India-Facilitates-a-Chinese-Dissidents-Conference-at-Dharamsala along with other reports. Back diplomacy between the two countries at the time had made New Delhi back off, with visas to some of the prominent dissidents being cancelled, and the meeting whittled down into a non-event.

China, however, has been firm on preventing India’s entry into the nuclear suppliers group. And has also taken a consistent stand on Masood Azhar, that India sees as being in opposition to its position and articulated concerns. The current face off over the Dalai Lama is clearly a response to this, with experts here now waiting to see who will be the first to blink. So far India has not backed off, Rijiju has described the visit by the Dalai Lama as being part of India’s internal affairs, to which China has ratcheted its response with the above warnings.