KEY POINTS

  • China Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Tibet to send an "important message" about Tibetan security
  • Trip comes amid rising tensions along the disputed border between India and China
  • Analysts say Yi's visit signals Beijing's interest in resolving Indian border dispute

    A high-ranking Chinese official visited Tibet on Friday to speak about national security concerns and to present an image of strength over the unresolved clash along the disputed Indian-Tibetan border.

    China Foreign Minister Wang Yi’s visit over the weekend was described as rare and an unusual symbolic gesture in comments made to the South China Morning Post (SCMP). It had been five years since Wang last visited the mountainous country.

    A political scientist at Nanjing University, Gu Su, said, “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.”

    Wang’s statements Saturday did not include any direct mention of India, however, he did visit the site of a three-month military standoff on the Tibet-India border where diplomatic talks have failed to reach any resolution.

    In May, Chinese and Indian troops skirmished along the Galwan River Valley. No shots were fired but the use of batons and knives and falls from the steep terrain killed 20 Indian soldiers and an estimated 35 to 43 Chinese soldiers. The incident has grown into a larger and often bitter dispute over trade, technology, investment, and geopolitics.

    Instead of India, Wang spoke about the security and stability of Tibet and how it is of pivotal importance to China’s overall development. His statement urged diplomats and local officials to work together to protect national security in the face of “unprecedented challenges in the post-coronavirus world.”

    Another complication is that Tibetans, with their government in exile in India under the leadership of the Dalia Lama, consider their country an independent nation while the Chinese government says it is part of China. Instead of commenting on Beijing’s treatment of the Tibetans and international concerns about human rights abuses, Wang praised Tibet’s achievements under President Xi Jinping to secure the southern border.

    He also stressed how Tibet had played a major role in developing economic and trade relations with neighboring countries. He credited their “role” to Xi’s flagship foreign policy and infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative.

    Wang’s trip to Tibet was followed on Saturday, Indian Independence Day, with a speech by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who promised to build a 1.4 million-strong military to defend the country’s sovereignty.

    The timing of Wang’s visit and Modi’s speech support the view of another expert Wang Dehua, an India specialist at the Shanghai Municipal Centre for International Studies. He said that it showed China did not want to appear weak in the face of what it regards as India’s hawkish stance.

    “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 U.S.," Dehua told SCMP. "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.”

    Free Tibet demonstration Protesters shout during a pro-Tibet march as Chinese President Xi Jinping attends events in Seattle, Washington, Sept. 22, 2015 Photo: Reuters/David Ryder