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Karmapa's Flight
By Gregg - 28 Feb, 2000

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Sikkim¡ªan Indian state jutting north and lodged between Nepal and Bhutan¡ªis the home of the Rumtek Monastery, the highest seat of the Karmapa's Kagyu order. We arrived in Sikkim just three weeks after the Karmapa's arrival in India. In the interim, the Indian press had focused on the quandary the Indian Government was in over how to handle the affair.

Relations between India and China have been shakey for years. In 1962 China invaded and full-blown war ensued. Since then relations have gradually improved to the point where late last year the two governments agreed to meet and discuss their border disputes. The hosting of Tibetan exiles¡ªespecially the Dalai Lama¡ªhas been one of the stickiest points in Sino-India relations. Now, the Karmapa's flight¡ªa major embarassment to the Chinese Government¡ªthreatened to derail any talks between the two governments.

The Chinese Government took some time to react to the Karmapa's flight. When they did they said that by granting political asylum to the Karmapa, India would be violating the five principles of coexistance which form the basis for Sino-India relations. The Chinese have reminded India of India's recognition of China's sovereignty over Tibet. Although the Dalai Lama is permitted to reside in India, he is technically there as the spiritual head of Tibetan Buddhism. India doesn't officially recognize the Tibetan government-in-exile.

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One Indian magazine outlined the Indian Government's options: (1) All Tibetans who reach India automatically get refugee recognition. The Karmapa could thus be given de facto refugee status even if he didn't formally apply for political asylum. (2) If invited, he could go to a third country. In this case he would need an Indian Travel Document issued by New Delhi. It is not clear how the Chinese Government would react to the granting of such a document. (3) India could deny Beijing and grant him official refugee status following an application for political asylum.

This last scenario is clearly out of the question. The cost to India in relations with their northern neighbor would be too high. The second scenario is considered unlikely as the Karmapa has expressed his intention to remain in India. An invitation from the US not withstanding, his teachers are in India and it is there that he chooses to stay.

The first scenario appears the most likely. But analysts say there's no way the Karmapa can be termed an ordinary refugee. It's not clear how the Chinese authorities would react to this scenario either.

The bottomline is that the Chinese Government is calling for the Karmapa's return to Tibet. This is an obvious fourth option but the Indian press wasn't talking about it. It was widely ignored a a non-option.



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