China’s premier government think-tank that advises Tibet policy has for the first time signalled its readiness to open its doors to India, officials said, with moves underfoot to initiate exchanges between Indian and China-based Tibetan academics.

The China Tibetology Research Centre (CTRC) in Beijing, which this week hosted Bharatiya Janata Party leader and MP Subramanian Swamy as well as Indian Embassy officials, has discussed expanding links with India. In the past, India has always been viewed with particular sensitivity, officials say, given the Dalai Lama’s presence and the sizeable Tibetan community.

Indian scholars in Tibet universities

While the CTRC is an official think-tank that parrots Beijing’s views on Tibet, exchanges could for the first time open up universities in Tibet to Indian scholars on a large scale considering the CTRC’s ties.

“The CTRC said they had cooperation with 22 countries but I was surprised to find very little with India,” said Dr. Swamy. “I will write to the Prime Minister and suggest we look at a joint formal collaboration between the CTRC and an institution such as the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR), which is currently headed by Professor Lokesh Chandra, who is himself a prominent Tibetologist.”

Swamy said this could open up Tibet and its universities to Indian scholars and vice-versa. He has also proposed installing a first ever chair on Hindu religious studies in a university in Tibet as well as a chair on Mahayana Buddhism in an institution in India.

“The time has come for us to normalise our relations with China to the extent that we can interact across the border, whether in Tibet or Xinjiang, which would boost economic cooperation and the ability of tourists to travel,” he said.

China to reconsider UNSC stance?

Dr. Swamy, who is in China at the invitation of a foreign ministry-linked think-tank and will undertake the Kailash Mansarovar pilgrimage in Tibet starting this week, said he was of the view following interactions with officials in Beijing that recent strains in ties, such as over China blocking India’s moves at the United Nations Security Council to list the Jaish-e-Muhammad chief Masood Azhar, could be ironed out. Among the officials he met was the head of the foreign affairs committee of the Chinese upper house, as well as a vice-minister of the finance ministry.

China would likely be amenable if India submitted an application that focused primarily on hard evidence linked with Azhar rather than generally censure Pakistan as an epicentre of terror.

“If India in the UN concentrated more on getting Azhar rather than seeking a censure of Pakistan as a sponsor of terror, as a tactical move that would be more prudent,” he said. “Based on what I have learnt here, I would be very surprised if China continued to obstruct, once it is limited to hard evidence.”

“My impression is India can expect cooperation from China on the issue of dealing with Masood Azhar as a terrorist who should face trial in India,” he said, adding that a tripartite approach with China, India and Pakistan could help iron out differences on the terror issue, especially with China becoming, like India, a party increasingly affected by terror emanating from Pakistan.