India-based Tibetan activists are taking to the streets of New Delhi, hoping to use this week's BRICS summit - and the presence in India of Chinese President Hu Jintao - to call attention to their grievances against Chinese rule.
The protesters, who live in India along with their exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama, will no doubt capture the desired attention from the assembled print, television and radio reporters covering the summit. But the issue is one that India and China pointedly avoid in all their public discussions, and analysts say that is unlikely to change this week.
As Asia's two fastest-growing economies, China and India often present a united front on issues such as climate change, the global financial crisis and regional security. Yet their bilateral relations have historically been fraught with tensions.
Among the biggest points of contention is the Dalai Lama, who has lived in northern India since he fled from China in 1959.
Since then, thousands of Tibetans have settled in the area, called Dharamsala, creating a religious enclave, the seat of the Tibetan exile government and an international rallying point for the Tibetan cause.
Huang Jing, professor of public policy at the University of Singapore, says the two countries never include this topic in their bilateral meetings out of a “profound understanding” that talks on the issue will only drive them apart.
The issue flared Monday when 27-year-old Tibetan exile Jamphel Yeshi' set fire to himself in New Delhi. China immediately accused the Dalai Lama of masterminding the action, but a foreign ministry spokesman Hong Lei did not mention India at all.
After the self-immolation, 200 people reportedly gathered in the center of Dharamsala with flags and banners to express solidarity with the young Tibetan, who died of his injuries Wednesday.
“Of course China is not happy about all this, especially when Hu Jintao is visiting New Delhi,” says Huang, “But they also understand that India is a very open society. India has its own domestic politics to handle.”
Another area of contention is the Himalayan border, where a war broke out in 1962. The two countries have conflicting territorial claims, but at a recent meeting in New Delhi they agreed to set up a “working mechanism” to monitor the contested borders and to schedule regular bilateral meetings.