May 21, 2008

Tibet: China’s Ascendancy Spells Dalai Lama Demotion

Sample ImageThe last two times the Dalai Lama traveled to London he was welcomed at No. 10 Downing Street as the political leader of Tibet. Now, ironically, at a time when more Britons than ever would acknowledge Tibet’s right to greater political autonomy, His Holiness is being carefully stage-managed by Downing Street as merely a religious leader.

Below is an article published by the International Herald Tribune:

The Dalai Lama arrived in London on Tuesday [20 May 2008] as part of a protracted foreign tour, highlighting efforts by European governments to balance China's hostility toward him against their support for human rights in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama arrived from Germany, where only one government minister had agreed to meet with him.

Chancellor Angela Merkel, who was on a weeklong tour of Latin America, had received him at her offices last September [2007], prompting a chill in relations with Beijing.

In London, Prime Minister Gordon Brown is embroiled in a contentious debate over the level of warmth he should display toward China at the 2008 Summer Olympics in light of Beijing's recent crackdown on dissent in Tibet.

According to the Dalai Lama's official program in Britain during an 11-day visit, he will meet Brown only at a scheduled encounter with the archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, at what the prime minister's office has called "an interfaith dialogue with several other religious leaders."

But, breaking with a tradition established by two former British prime ministers - John Major and Tony Blair - Brown will not receive the Dalai Lama at No. 10 Downing Street, his official residence.

The scheduling inspired complaints from activists and politicians who support Tibetans in their struggle against China and who maintain that the British authorities have played down the status of the Dalai Lama to avoid conflict with China, an important trade partner.

"Treating the Dalai Lama as only a religious leader simply ignores reality," said Menzies Campbell, the former leader of the Liberal Democrats, a small opposition party. "There is no reason why he should not be received at No. 10 Downing Street."

"Many people will conclude that the prime minister is trying to have it both ways, to see him and not offend the Chinese government," Menzies said.

Representatives of the Free Tibet campaign said that Brown would be the first Western leader to meet the Dalai Lama since the widespread protests and violence between Tibetans and the Chinese authorities in March [2008].

"It is vital that the British government treat the Dalai Lama not just as a religious leader but also as a political figure," said Matt Whitticase, a representative of the Free Tibet campaign.

"Gordon Brown is refusing to meet him in a political setting, underplaying his importance as a political leader especially at a time when his importance has been emphasized by the Tibetan people and people across the world," Whitticase told The Press Association news agency. "There is a deep-seated political problem in Tibet, and the Dalai Lama holds the key and he should, therefore, be met in a political setting."

The awkward choice facing Brown is only one of many at a time when his critics accuse him of clumsiness and vacillation in his handling of public policy. Earlier this year, after initially giving the impression that he would travel to Beijing for the opening of the Olympics, Brown said he would attend only the closing ceremony. At that time, other leaders, including President Nicolas Sarkozy of France, were considering a boycott of the opening ceremony to protest China's crackdown in Tibet.

The Dalai Lama is on a three-month tour of five countries, including the United States. He used the visit to Germany to underline his insistence that he was not seeking Tibet's independence from China.

Speaking to thousands of supporters at the Brandenburg Gate in central Berlin, the Dalai Lama said: "I see many Tibetan flags here. I want to make clear that this is not to be considered something against China. This is not a separatist movement."

The Tibetan issue has tapped into profound opposition among critics of Beijing. Last month, for instance, protesters disrupted the passage of the Olympic torch through several capitals, including Paris and London.

In Britain, the Dalai Lama is scheduled to give several speeches and address a parliamentary foreign affairs panel as well as audiences in the English cities of Nottingham and Oxford.