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Rights-Europe: The Dalai Lama, Now the Once Welcomed

September 1, 2008

By Julio Godoy
Inter Press Service (Italy)
August 29, 2008

PARIS, Aug 29 (IPS) - EU leaders speak repeatedly of tying increasing
Chinese investment in Africa to respect for human rights. But no such
considerations come in the way of the EU's own dealings with China.

Within a couple of years China has become Europe's most important
economic partner. According to a July survey by the German Chamber of
Trade and Industry, some 200,000 jobs in Germany depend on exports to
China. Germany's exports to China this year will amount to more 50
billion dollars, 10 percent above 2007. By next year, China will be
Germany's main trading partner.

Chinese trade with France reached 18.3 billion dollars in the first
half of this year, and is headed for a 25 percent increase over last year.

Germany and France are, not coincidentally, increasingly tolerant of
autocratic Chinese moves, as evident from the treatment that the
Tibetan leader, the Dalai Lama, was given this summer in Paris and Berlin.

Tibet has been seeking increased autonomy within China. Once an
independent kingdom, it has been under Chinese occupation since 1950.
The Dalai Lama leads the Tibetan government in exile, based in India.
The Beijing authorities consider the Dalai Lama, who received the
Nobel Peace Prize in 1989, a terrorist encouraging Tibetan separatism.

The Dalai Lama spent almost two weeks in France this month. But,
unlike on earlier visits to Paris, he did not get to meet any
significant political leader, let alone President Nicolas Sarkozy.

A handful of second-rank French parliamentarians met the Tibetan
leader Aug. 13 at a closed-door session. Sarkozy's wife, the pop
singer Carla Bruni, attended a religious ceremony led by the Dalai
Lama in the south of the country.

Sarkozy, not known to skip a photo opportunity with international
personalities, said he did not meet the Dalai Lala in order to
"respect the spiritual character" of the Tibetan leader's visit to France.

But few doubt that the cool reception to the Dalai Lama was the
direct consequence of very public Chinese pressure. Ahead of the
Dalai Lama's visit to Paris, Chinese ambassador Kong Quan
emphatically urged Sarkozy not to meet the Tibetan leader.

"If such a meeting took place, it would have serious consequences
because it would be contrary to the principle of non-interference in
internal affairs," the ambassador told reporters in Paris.

Sarkozy replied that it was not the Chinese government's duty "to
rule my agenda or to fix my appointments." But when the time came,
Sarkozy refused to meet the Dalai Lama. Instead, he went to Beijing
to take part in the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games.

"It is a pity that the French government rolls out the red carpet
when (the Colombian politician) Ingrid Betancourt comes to Paris, but
forces the Dalai Lama to come in through the back door," Lionel Luca,
member of the French parliament said at a press conference.

"The (Chinese pressure) must be extremely strong," said Luca, a
member of Sarkozy's Union for a Popular Movement party. "Only the
French fear of losing business orders from China explains our cowardice."

During his visit to Beijing, Sarkozy signed contracts for two
French-made nuclear power plants worth 13 billion dollars. Former
French prime minister Jean-Pierre Raffarin, who accompanied Sarkozy
to Beijing, said Sarkozy's presence in China proved indispensable for
the successful closure of the deal.

For all this, it seems, the Dalai Lama had to be treated badly. And
many in France have protested against it.

"It is not by acting as a bedside carpet that we are going to gain
respect from the Chinese," Socialist Party (PS) member of parliament
Jean-Louis Bianco said in an interview on French television. "He is a
Nobel Prize winner, and it is not a shame to meet him in public,
there is no reason to conceal that we are meeting him."

The Chinese are not letting go. In a statement released in Beijing
Aug. 13, the Chinese ministry of foreign affairs protested against
Sarkozy's as yet vague plans to meet the Dalai Lama in December. It
urged the French government "to take into consideration Chinese
concerns and to handle the sensitive (Tibetan) question with the due prudence."

This prudence is necessary to "guarantee the sane and stable
development of French-Chinese relations," the Beijing government said.

The Chinese government has issued similar warnings to other European
governments.

After German Chancellor Angela Merkel met the Dalai Lama in Berlin in
September 2007, Chinese minister for foreign affairs Yang Jiechi said
Merkel had "offended" his people and "gambled away" Beijing's trust.
The Chinese government cancelled the annual human rights dialogue
between Germany and China that was scheduled in Beijing in December 2007.

Merkel's meeting with the Dalai Lama also led to tensions within the
German coalition government. German minister for foreign affairs
Frank-Walter Steinmeier accused Merkel of trying to "showcase" human
rights. Merkel is president of the Christian Democratic Union party;
Steinmeier is a leading member of the Social Democratic Party, a
coalition partner.

When the Dalai Lama came to Berlin in May this year, just weeks after
the Chinese government had violently repressed demonstrations by
Tibetan monks in Tibet capital Lhasa, almost no German high-ranking
official was available for a meeting.

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