India on Thursday rejected China's criticism over Prime Minister Narendra Modi's birthday greetings to the Dalai Lama, asserting that it is a consistent policy of the government to treat the Tibetan spiritual leader as an honoured guest.
External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said that the birthday greetings by the prime minister to the Dalai Lama should be seen in this overall context.
A day after Modi greeted the Dalai Lama over the phone on his 87th birthday, Beijing on Thursday criticised the prime minister saying India should stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's internal affairs.
"It is a consistent policy of the government of India to treat His Holiness Dalai Lama as an honoured guest in India and as a respected religious leader who enjoys a large following in India," Bagchi said at a weekly media briefing.
The external affairs ministry spokesperson was responding to questions on the Chinese reaction over Modi's greetings.
"His Holiness is accorded all due courtesies and freedom to conduct his religious and spiritual activities in India. His birthday is celebrated by many of his followers in India and abroad," Bagchi said.
"The birthday greetings by the prime minister to his Holiness on his 87th birthday should be seen in this overall context," he said, noting that Modi greeted him last year as well.
The Chinese reaction came on a day External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar held bilateral talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi in Bali on the sidelines of a conclave of G20 foreign ministers' meeting.
It is not known whether the issue figured in the talks.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a media briefing in Beijing that "the Indian side should fully recognise the anti-China separatist nature of the 14th Dalai Lama".
It should abide by its "commitment to China, speak and act prudently and stop using Tibet-related issues to interfere in China's internal affairs", Zhao said.
Minister of State for External Affairs and Culture Meenakashi Lekhi and Minister of State for Law S P Singh Baghel attended an event organised by the Bureau of Dalai Lama in Delhi to celebrate his birthday on Wednesday.
In her brief address at the event, Lekhi said the Dalai Lama is someone who talks about India as a great civilisational force and that he adopted the country as his mother.
Several Union ministers, including Kiren Rijiju and Nitin Gadkari, and lawmakers also greeted the Dalai Lama.
After a failed anti-Chinese uprising in 1959, the 14th Dalai Lama fled Tibet and came to India where he set up a government-in-exile.
The Chinese government officials and the Dalai Lama or his representatives have not met in formal negotiations since 2010.
Beijing has in the past accused the Dalai Lama of indulging in "separatist" activities and trying to split Tibet and considers him as a divisive figure.
However, the Tibetan spiritual leader has insisted that he is not seeking independence but "genuine autonomy for all Tibetans living in the three traditional provinces of Tibet" under the "Middle-Way approach".
(With PTI inputs)