India’s position on the Dalai Lama has not changed, the Ministry of External Affairs said on Friday. It released a clarification after The Indian Express reported that the government had asked its senior leaders to avoid attending events planned by the Tibetan government in exile in India, in order to maintain ties with China.

According to the report, Foreign Secretary Vijay Gokhale sent a note on the matter to Cabinet Secretary PK Sinha on February 22, and four days later, Sinha issued the directive to all government functionaries.

While the ministry made no mention of the note in its statement, it said India’s position on the Dalai Lama is “clear and consistent”. “He is a revered religious leader and is deeply respected by the people of India,” the ministry said. “There is no change in that position. His holiness is accorded all freedom to carry out his religious activities in India.”

The Indian Express report said the note pointed out how the next two months are a “very sensitive time” for India’s relations with China and asked leaders to stay away from events the “Tibetan leadership in India” has planned in March and April to mark the 60th year of the Dalai Lama’s exile.

Foreign Secretary Gokhale was India’s ambassador to Beijing in 2017, the year relations between the neighbouring countries soured after a months-long standoff in the Doklam sector of Sikkim. He sent the note to Sinha a day before he flew to Beijing for talks with Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, Vice Foreign Minister Kong Xuanyou and State Councillor Yang Jiechi.

In his note to Sinha, Gokhale said the events include one in Delhi on April 1 called ‘Thank You India’. “The Dalai Lama set-up intends to invite a number of Indian dignitaries,” the note said, adding that the period will be “a very sensitive time in the context of India’s relations with China”.

Sinha then issued a directive to senior leaders of the Centre and states, saying participation in these events was “not desirable”, according to The Indian Express. In another note to secretaries and government department heads, Sinha said leaders “should be discouraged” from taking part in these occasions.