Indian Defense Minister George Fernandes said Friday that he hoped China would begin dialogue with the Dalai Lama to find reconciliation on Tibet. In a March 29, 2002, interview with the U.S.-based weekly India Abroad, Fernandes said that he had followed the Dalai Lama’s position on Tibet for several years and hinted that there is no reason why talks could not begin.

Responding to a question on Tibet, Fernandes said, “China has very strong views about India and (about) the Dalai Lama being in our country. But that has not somehow impinged on relations. Of course everyone will be happy if China and His Holiness get into a dialogue and are able to come to some reconciliation.”

“The Dalai Lama has not been talking about independence. Over the years I have followed the positions he has taken and what he would like is some autonomy and that’s all,” Fernandes added.

When asked whether it is unrealistic to ask the Chinese to allow “unarmed Tibetan pilgrims” (from outside Tibet) to visit their homeland, Fernandes replied, “I am not very sure the Tibetans have ever made a suggestion to that effect.”

Fernandes also said the overall relations between India and China have “taken a positive turn” in the last two to three years. He said this is manifested in many ways. “We have such a long boundary with China, we have border problems, but in the last three years we have not had a single incident where a bullet has been fired by either side,” Fernandes added.

In an interesting move, a report from Beijing says China has invited the Indian Defense Minister for a visit. “After his outburst against China in 1998, Mr. Fernandes has been seen in Beijing as the leading proponent of the “China threat” in India,” C. Raja Mohan, strategic editor of the Indian daily Hindu said in a report. “An invitation to him from Beijing points to a new chapter in Sino-Indian relations,” Mohan added.

Meanwhile, Indian Foreign Minister Jaswant Singh, who is on a visit to China, was quoted by the People’s Daily, on March 31, 2002, saying, “India would, as always, hold to the principle of “one China” and would never allow the Dalai Lama clique to launch political activities in its territory.” There have been no similar reports in the Indian media. The two sides, according to Singh, also agreed to schedule the visit of the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to China by the end of the year.

Indian Foreign Minister Singh arrived in China on March 29 for a visit.