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China warns India against Dalai Lama border visit

BEIJING (Reuters) - China on Friday rebuked India for inviting exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to visit a contested stretch of land on the India-China border, warning it would harm relations between the neighbours.

Tibet's exiled spiritual leader the Dalai Lama gestures during a teaching event in Milan, Italy October 21, 2016. REUTERS/Alessandro Garofalo

China claims more than 90,000 sq km (35,000 sq miles) of territory disputed by India in the eastern sector of the Himalayas. Much of that forms the Indian state of Arunachal Pradesh, which China calls South Tibet.

A senior aide to the Dalai Lama told Reuters the 80-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner had accepted an invitation from the state’s chief minister and its people to visit Arunchal Pradesh.

“His Holiness looks forward to visit in the second week of March,” said Tenzin Taklha.

A spokesman for the Chinese foreign ministry said

China was “firmly opposed to the Dalai Lama visiting the China-India border,” however, adding that it expected India to respect a bilateral consensus on the region.

“We hope India will not further complicate matters on the China-India border and will not give the Dalai Lama clique a platform for its anti-China separatist activities,” Lu Kang told a regular press briefing.

“Only in this way will the China-India relationship be able to develop in a healthy, stable way.”

China regards the Dalai Lama as a separatist, though he says he merely seeks genuine autonomy for his Himalayan homeland, which Communist Chinese troops “peacefully liberated” in 1950.

“The Dalai Lama is a revered spiritual figure and an honoured guest of India. He is absolutely free to travel to any part of the country,” a spokesman for India’s foreign ministry told reporters at a weekly briefing on Thursday, answering a query on the government’s view of the opposition by China.

“He has a sizeable following among the Buddhists in Arunachal Pradesh who would like to seek his blessings. He has visited the state in the past as well, and we see nothing unusual if he visits it again.”

U.S Ambassador to India Richard Verma visited Arunachal Pradesh this month, with China retorting it was “firmly opposed” to the U.S. diplomat’s action.

Disagreement between nuclear-armed China and India over parts of their 3,500-km (2,175-mile) border led to a brief war in 1962. They have moved to control the dispute, but repeated rounds of talks have made little progress.

India says China occupies 38,000 square km (14,600 sq miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau in the west, and is also suspicious of China’s support for arch-rival Pakistan.

Tensions occasionally flare over the disputed border. In August, China was angered by India’s plans to place advanced cruise missiles there.

Reporting by Sue-Lin Wong; Additional reporting by Tommy Wilkes in New Delhi and Abhishek Madhukar in Dharamsala, India; Editing by Clarence Fernandez