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Why Did Top Chinese Minister Visit Tibet Amid India-China Border Standoff?

Amid the ongoing India-China standoff, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi made a rare visit to Tibet on Friday. The visit is seen as an unusual and symbolic gesture as Wang became the first senior central government official to visit the region since the violent clash in on June 15 in Galwan Valley.

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“By paying a visit to the frontier region, Wang’s trip sent out an important message to audiences both at home and abroad that Beijing wants to reiterate its sovereignty over the disputed border areas,” said Gu Su, a political scientist at Nanjing University.

He further added that such visits are rare and only happen when the region had now gained national or international prominence. Experts believe that the visit signifies that Beijing is trying to show a strong face in the ongoing standoff with India. 

Tensions have been soaring between the two nuclear-armed neighbours after the Glawan valley conflict in June when the Chinese and Indian troops got into a violent clash that resulted in 20 Indian casualties and an unknown number on the Chinese side.

Looking at the ongoing disengagement process through military and diplomatic talks, experts believe that the process will take longer to reach the point of total disengagement. 

With additional troops moved to key areas of Eastern Ladakh, the Indian Army has decided to maintain its current strength of troops tanks and other weaponry along with Indian Air Force (IAF) on high alert on forwarding airbases along the Line of Actual Control (LAC) while the Navy will maintain its aggressive deployment in the Indian Ocean Region (IOR) along the upcoming winter months.

In May, Qi Yu, the foreign ministry’s Communist Party secretary visited Tibet and used it has a thinly veiled jibe at the US after Congress passed a bill warning to impose sanctions on Chinese officials if they tried to interfere with the Dalai Lama’s succession.

“Tibet has long been a very sensitive issue for Beijing and we must be very cautious over the use of the Tibet card by India and other foreign governments,” said Sun Shihai, another Indian affair specialist at Sichuan University. He further added that the trip highlighted the importance of Tibet in China’s foreign policy.

During the visit, Wang praised Tibet’s achievements under President Xi Jinping, especially in securing the border with India while brushing aside the reports of human rights violation in the region.

Wang underlined border infrastructure and poverty reduction initiatives in the region and said appreciated Tibet for its role in developing economic and trade relations with neighbouring countries, citing the Belt and Road Initiative, Xi Jinping’s flagship foreign policy and infrastructure project.

“Wang’s trip was clearly aimed at rallying support and crafting policies on how to effectively deal with India, especially when New Delhi is still wavering between China and the US,” said Wang Dehua, an India specialist at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies.

“While China clearly does not want to go to war with India, we nonetheless have to be fully prepared for all sorts of scenarios and that’s what Wang probably has done in Tibet,” he added.

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