Indian federal government representatives will meet the Dalai Lama when he visits a sensitive border region controlled by India but claimed by China, officials said, despite a warning from Beijing that it would damage ties.
India says the Tibetan spiritual leader will make a religious trip to Arunachal Pradesh next month, and as a secular democracy, it would not stop him from travelling to any part of the country.
China claims the state in the eastern Himalayas as "South Tibet", and has denounced foreign and even Indian leaders' visits to the region as attempts to bolster New Delhi's territorial claims.
A trip by the Dalai Lama, whom the Chinese regard as a dangerous separatist, would ratchet up tensions at a time when New Delhi is at odds with China on strategic and security issues and unnerved by Beijing's growing ties with arch-rival Pakistan.
Narendra Modi's administration is raising its public engagement with the Tibetan leader, a change from earlier governments' reluctance to anger Beijing by sharing a public platform with him.
Rijiju, who is from Arunachal and is Modi's point man on Tibetan issues, said he would meet the Dalai Lama.
Kiren Rijiju, Union Minister of State for Home Affairs He is going there as a religious leader, there is no reason to stop him. His devotees are demanding he should come, what harm can he do? He is a Lama.
The Chinese Foreign Ministry said on Friday the Dalai Lama's trip would cause serious damage to India-China ties, and warned New Delhi not to provide him a platform for anti-China activities.
Geng Shuang, SpokesmanThe Dalai clique has, for a long time, carried out anti-China separatist activities, and on the issue of the China-India border, has a history of disgraceful performances.
China is Investing in Pakistan
The decision to go ahead at a time of strained relations signals Modi's readiness to use diplomatic tools at a time when China's economic and political clout across South Asia is growing.
China is helping to fund a new trade corridor across India's neighbour and arch-foe Pakistan, and has also invested in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh, raising fears of strategic encirclement.
Some officials said India's approach to the Tibetan issue remained cautious, reflecting a gradual evolution in policy rather than a sudden shift, and Modi appears reluctant to go too far for fear of upsetting its large northern neighbour.
That said, Modi's desire to pursue a more assertive foreign policy since his election in 2014 was quickly felt in contacts with China.
At one bilateral meeting early in his tenure, Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj asked her Chinese counterpart whether Beijing had a "one India" policy, according to a source familiar with India-China talks, a pointed reference to Beijing's demand that countries recognise its "one China" policy.
"One India" would imply that China recognise India's claims to Kashmir, contested by Pakistan, as well as border regions like Arunachal Pradesh.
"These meetings were happening before. Now it is public," Lobsang Sangay, head of the Tibetan government-in-exile based in the Indian town of Dharamsala, said in an interview.
Lobsang Sangay, Head of the Tibetan government-in-exileI notice a tangible shift with all the Chinese investments in all the neighbouring countries that has generated debate within India.
Rory Medcalf, Head of the National Security College at the Australian National University, said New Delhi appeared to have been surprised by China's inflexibility since Modi came to power, fuelling distrust in the Indian security establishment.
"India does feel that the cards are stacked against it and that it should retain and play the cards that it does have," he said. "The Dalai Lama and Tibetan exile community is clearly one of those cards."
(This article has been edited for length.)