GAUHATI, India (AP) — Exiled Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on Saturday recalled his 1959 flight to India from Tibet ahead of a visit to northeast India's Arunachal Pradesh state despite objections by China, which considers it a disputed region.
The Dalai Lama said he had no option but to escape Tibet in view of Chinese military action. He spoke at a function organized by an Indian newspaper, The Assam Tribune, in Gauhati, the capital of Assam state. The state's governor and its top elected official were among an audience of nearly 1,500 people.
The Dalai Lama last visited Arunachal Pradesh in 2009. China protested that trip, but there was no major impact on relations with India.
He will leave for Arunachal Pradesh's Tawang district on Tuesday, at the end of his Assam state trip. He is scheduled to consecrate a temple and give teachings to his followers during his weeklong stay in the state.
"Whenever I come to the northeast of India, it feels like a reunion with people here," the Dalai Lama said Saturday. "When I revisit the Tawang area, I am reminded of the freedom that I had experienced for the first time (in 1959). That was the beginning of a new chapter in my life."
"On March 10, 1959, there were huge demonstrations in Lhasa," the Tibetan region's capital, he recalled. "Chinese military action also increased. I had no option but to escape. On March 17, I fled."
"I sent some of my officers to Indian authorities at the border," he said. "They readily allowed us in, received us warmly, and today I can tell you that I am the longest guest of the Indian government."
Last month, China warned of "severe damage" to relations with India and increased regional instability if the Dalai Lama proceeds with his trip to the state.
Beijing has expressed its concerns to New Delhi on numerous occasions and urged India to avoid offering a place for the Dalai Lama to carry out anti-China separatist activities, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said last month.
China claims the partly ethnically Tibetan Himalayan state of Arunachal Pradesh as its own territory, and the frontier between the two Asian giants remains tense more than 50 years after they fought a brief but bloody border war high in the peaks.
China claims about 90,000 square kilometers (35,000 square miles) in Arunachal Pradesh, referred to informally by some Chinese as "Southern Tibet." India says China is occupying 38,000 square kilometers (15,000 square miles) of its territory on the Aksai Chin plateau.
More than a dozen rounds of talks have failed to make substantial progress on the dispute, although there have been relatively few confrontations in recent years.