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Indian Prime Minister Modi Wishes Dalai Lama Happy Birthday, Risking Beijing’s Anger

Exile Tibetan government officials watch a message from their spiritual leader the Dalai Lama on a screen during a ceremony to mark the 86th birthday of the Tibetan leader in Dharmsala, India, July 6, 2021.

Amid persistent tensions between India and China, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said he called Tibetan spiritual leader the Dalai Lama to wish him happy birthday.

"Spoke on phone to His Holiness the @DalaiLama to convey greetings on his 86th birthday. We wish him a long and healthy life," Modi said on Twitter.

The Dalai Lama has been living in exile in India since 1959, when he escaped from Tibet following a failed uprising against Chinese rule. He has denied Beijing’s accusation that he is seeking Tibet’s separation from the mainland, calling instead for greater autonomy for Tibet and protection for the region’s Buddhist culture.

Indian leaders and officials have in the past hesitated to make public any interaction with the Dalai Lama to avoid upsetting Beijing.

But ties between India and China have plummeted since a military standoff between the two countries along their disputed Himalayan border in Ladakh.

Although the standoff has eased, both countries still deploy tens of thousands of troops in the Himalayan mountains at several points where they have unsettled borders.

Indian Foreign Minister Subrahmanyam Jaishankar has said that ties between the country cannot be normalized until China pulls back its troops.